Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

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Research Focus

Germ Cells and RNA Biology

Germ Cell Biology

Germ cells are remarkable cells. To endow our body with reproductive capacity, they differentiate into highly specialised cell types (sperm & oocyte) that fuse with one another upon fertilisation. To this end, only germ cells undergo a complex series of divisions to reduce their chromosomal copy number (meiosis). Importantly, they are the sole cellular contributors to the developing embryo proper, providing an immortal link between successive generations, termed the germ line.

The lineage of germ cells begins when primordial germ cells are set aside early in embryonic development and temporarily ends as a gamete before the cycle resumes in the early embryo. Along their developmental pathway, germ cells undergo many cell fate decisions to populate the gonad, a somatic structure specialised in housing and supporting the germ line. Germline development is correlated with the development of the entire organism and unlike other tissues, the germ line reaches full functional capacity only in the adult stage.

Cytoplasmic Gene Expression Control

Gene expression control is key for any developmental and homeostatic process in biology. In combination with RNA decay, translational control mechanisms decide on how much protein is synthesised from a given number of mRNA templates. Therefore, regulated protein synthesis, in the form of cytoplasmic post-transcriptional mRNA regulation, combined with regulated protein turnover are powerful mechanisms to shape protein gradients across cells and tissues in time and space.

mRNA regulatory networks are built of RNA-binding and RNA-modifying proteins. Depending on their combinations they repress or activate translation of specific mRNAs, which encode cell fate determinants or differentiation factors. Importantly, the expression of RNA regulatory proteins themselves is subject to heavy control in time and space.

RNA Biology

Research in the field of RNA Biology has never been more exciting! Numerous technological advances have aided the rapidly advancing and expanding RNA universe (such as RNA sequencing and genome engineering strategies). Moreover, recent findings - including ours - in the field of germ cell biology unambiguously manifested that germ cells represent the riches source of RNA-based gene expression control mechanisms.


Our methodological and technical expertise includes but is not limited to: RNA-Protein complex purification and analysis in vivo and in vitro, baculovirus-mediated protein expression, RNA Molecular Biology, Immunocytochemistry, Chemical mutagenesis and reverse genetics, C. elegans genomic engineering (Crispr/Cas, MosSCI)

Selected Publications

Localized phase separation of P granules regulated by an mRNA competition mechanism

Saha S, Christoph A. Weber, Nousch N, Hoege C, Hein MY, Nishimura MO, Arana OA, Mahamid J, Jahnel M, Jawerth L, Pozniakovski A, Baumeister W, Mann M, Eckmann CR, Jülicher F, Hyman AA

2016. Cell 166(6):1572–1584.e16.

The disordered P granule protein LAF-1 drives phase separation into droplets with tunable viscosity and dynamics

Elbaum-Garfinkle S, Kim Y, Szczepaniak K, Chen CC, Eckmann CR, Myong S, Brangwynne CP

2015. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 112(23):7189-94.

GLD-4-mediated translational activation regulates the size of the proliferative germ cell pool in the adult C. elegans germ line

Millonigg S, Minasaki R*, Nousch M*, Novak J, Eckmann CR

2014. PLoS Genet 10(9):e1004647(16 pages).

Fertility and germline stem cell maintenance under different diets requires nhr-114/HNF4 in C. elegans

Gracida X, Eckmann CR

2013. Curr Biol 23(7):607-13.

The Caenorhabditis elegans Ste20 kinase, GCK-3, is essential for postembryonic developmental timing and regulates meiotic chromosome segregation

Kupinski AP, Muller-Reichert T, Eckmann CR

2010. Dev Biol 344(2):758-71.

Financial Support

We are grateful to the following grant agencies supporting our current and previous work:

  • German Research Foundation (DFG)
  • Land Sachsen-Anhalt (EFRE)
  • Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP)
  • German Academic Exchange Program (DAAD)
  • Max Planck Society (MPG)