Research Topics

Tremendous insights in basic research of life sciences have opened up possibilities not only to design and to produce desired chemical and biological molecules, but also to reprogram cells, cell populations and organisms aimed at fulfilling specified demands on the function, regulation or multidimensional behavior of the entire ensemble.

The Graduate School Life Science Engineering promotes the scientific education of international PhD students from all life science disciplines with emphasis on topics related to synthetic biology, molecular biology and drug development.

Below you find an overview of current research topics at TU Darmstadt associated to Life Science Engineering:

One focus of life science engineering research is on the development of new chemical entities or engineered biomolecules and their influence on the function of their target molecules. At TU Darmstadt, several groups have laid their research focus on the development and engineering of antibodies, peptides and small molecules to specifically address target molecules (e.g. cell surface receptors, adaptor proteins, enzymes) in a selective manner aimed at understanding and modulating cellular functions. Depending on the approach these tailor-made biomolecules are additionally functionalized with e.g. toxins or dyes, combining chemical and biomolecular methods.

Department of Chemistry: Prof. Dr. Katja Schmitz, Prof. Dr. Felix Hausch, Prof. Dr. Harald Kolmar, Prof. Dr. Boris Schmidt

Department of Biology: Prof. Dr. H. Ulrich Göringer, Prof. Dr. Heribert Warzecha, Prof. Dr. Beatrix Süß, Prof. Dr. Johannes Kabisch

Recyclable materials as well as new technologies for energy storage and conversion have gained more and more importance. Researchers at TU Darmstadt are investigating recombinant DNA technologies for the production of novel enzymes as basis for the identification of biocatalysts and development of new synthesis routes for carbohydrates and glycoconjugates. Moreover, they optimize microorganisms with respect to their oil body formation properties, using them for the development of renewable gasoline replacements and for the production of different hydrocarbons.

Department of Chemistry: Prof. Dr. Wolf-Dieter Fessner, Prof. Dr. Harald Kolmar

Department of Biology: Prof. Dr. Jörg Simon, Prof. Dr. Johannes Kabisch, Prof. Dr. Viktor Stein

The engineering of genetic circuits is an approach from the field of synthetic biology to design and manufacture non-naturally occurring RNA- or DNA-based regulatory devices. Several research groups at TU Darmstadt focus on the development of new synthetic DNA- and RNA-based circuits with a broad range of applications e.g. as transcriptional and translational riboswitches, molecular diagnostics or small transcription activating RNAs (STARs) etc. Due to their very versatile properties e.g. formation of complex 3-dimensional structures, flexibility in conformation, robustness, they have been identified as ideal candidates for biocatalysts or regulation devices.

Department of Chemistry: Prof. Dr. Harald Kolmar

Department of Biology: Prof. Dr. Beatrix Süß, Prof. Dr. Viktor Stein, Prof. Dr. Johannes Kabisch

Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology: Prof. Dr. Heinz Köppl

Department of Physics: Prof. Dr. Barbara Drossel

Biological ion channels are found in all living cells, where they selectively regulate the transport of ions across the membrane. They convert physical, biological and chemical signals into robust current signals. As their mode of action is in many cases well understood, research groups at TU Darmstadt are re-engineering naturally occurring protein-based ion channels into highly specific biosensors for the detection of biotechnologically and biomedically relevant molecules. Therefore, two approaches are pursued. Protein-based ion channels with customized response functions are constructed using a combination of structure-guided protein engineering and high-throughput screening. The second approach is based on the construction of ion channel models. The synthesis of these so-called ion conductive nanopores is an approach to mimic biological ion channels for development of new sensing systems. These nanopores are fabricated in polymer foils, providing higher stability than the natural lipid layer. Upon chemical modification, they can be used as the core of a biomolecular sensing system using ion track etching technique. Moreover, research focusses on electrophysiological, biochemical, and molecular modeling approaches for the rational design of sensors employed for identifying substances of biological interest.

Department of Biology: Prof. Dr. Gerhard Thiel, Prof. Dr. Bodo Laube, Prof. Dr. Viktor Stein


In recent years, plants as bioreactors have gained interest as producers of various products. Currently, biodegradable plastics, bioactive peptides, vaccines and a vast number of recombinant proteins such as enzymes, diagnostic proteins or antibodies are produced in plants with the advantages of low production costs, free of animal pathogens and easy to scale-up. Researchers at TU Darmstadt make use of various biological tools e.g. bioinformatics or synthetic biology to develop economic methods for the biosynthesis of different molecules, among them insect pheromones, in plants. Moreover, the research focus is on plant plastids and their genome manipulation for the production of therapeutically relevant recombinant peptides and proteins. Additionally, transgenic plants are used for the expression of inhibitors against plant parasites.

Department of Biology: Prof. Dr. Ralf Kaldenhoff, Prof. Dr. Heribert Warzecha

The concept of ecological networks summarizes the complex interactions of different species or organisms in an ecosystem. Several working groups at TU Darmstadt investigate, how such ecosystems function and why biodiversity is important for this function. Moreover, they try to understand, how interaction across species effects the ecosystem and who benefits from it, using a combination of empirical field observations, chemical analyses, experiments and modelling. Therefore, the effects of intrinsic noise on biological processes within the ecosystem is investigated using population models. Moreover, they try to improve the robustness of cellular processes against changes of the environment.

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Sciences: Prof. Dr. Susanne Lackner

Department of Biology: Prof. Dr. Nico Blüthgen

Department of Physics: Prof. Dr. Barbara Drossel

The research field “synthetic biology” describes a combination of biology and engineering disciplines. It focuses on the design and creation of new non-naturally occurring entities or the redesign and modification of already existing systems towards novel functionalities. Synthetic biology takes advantage of the understanding of single components of e.g. metabolic pathways, organisms, enzymatic pathways or genetic circuits. It makes use of a vast number of different scientific techniques and approaches, like gene synthesis, genome sequencing, modeling and prediction tools as well as microfluidics. At TU Darmstadt, researchers focus on the development of computational simulation models to investigate biological and biophysical phenomena on multiple scales and to engineer biomolecules and functional biomaterials. Moreover, synthetic biology includes the research of structure and function of biological sensors involved in synaptic transmission, neuronal development and cancer progression by combining biochemical, morphological, mouse genetic, behavioral, molecular modeling and electrophysiological methods.

Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology: Prof. Dr. Heinz Köppl

Department of Philosophy: Prof. Dr. Alfred Nordmann, Prof. Dr. Petra Gehring

Department of Biology: Prof. Dr. Kay Hamacher, Prof. Dr. Bodo Laube, Prof. Dr. Johannes Kabisch, Prof. Dr. Gerhard Thiel

Molecular medicine is a research field that investigates how genes, molecules and cells function and uses that knowledge to develop new diagnostic or treatment methods. Moreover, our enhanced knowledge on genetic and epigenetic markers also allows for an improvement of therapies in the field of personalized medicine. At TU Darmstadt, researchers investigate the molecular causes of brain diseases (e. g. pediatric brain tumors and developmental disorders) and chemokines, a class of signal proteins and their function in different diseases (e.g. asthma, arthritis or chronical inflammation).

Department of Biology: Prof. Dr. Ulrike A. Nuber, Prof. Dr. M. Cristina Cardoso

Department of Chemistry: Prof. Dr. Felix Hausch, Prof. Dr. Harald Kolmar, Prof. Dr. Katja Schmitz

Biomedical engineering is a broad interdisciplinary research field at the interface of medicine, human healthcare and technological engineering, including topics like tissue engineering, medical implants, minimally invasive techniques in surgery and cardio-technology, e-health, big data or x-ray devices. It combines the knowledge of engineering (e.g. robotics, computer science) with biology and medicine to improve human health (care). Amongst others, it deals with the development of new devices, algorithms, processes and systems for the improvement of medical practice and heath care. At TU Darmstadt, researchers design and develop wearable mechatronic and robotic devices like prostheses or orthoses for human-mechatronic interactions. Moreover, research topics include, elastic robot design, actuation and control, human-computer/human-robot interaction, human-machine-centered design methods and prosthetics and biomechanics.

Department of Biology: Prof. Dr. Ralf Galuske

Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology: Prof. Dr. Thomas P. Burg, Prof. Dr. Heinz Köppl

Department of Computer Science: Prof. Dr. Oskar von Stryk, Prof. Dr. Kristian Kersting, Prof. Dr. Jan Peters, Prof. Dr. Stefan Roth

Department of Mechanical Engineering: Prof. Dr. Stephan Rinderknecht

Department of Human Sciences: Prof. Dr. André Seyfarth, Prof. Dr. Joachim Vogt (more)

Centre for Cognitive Science