Portrait of optogenetics pioneer Peter Hegemann
The new video portrait presents the renowned biophysicist and Hector Fellow Peter Hegemann and introduces his research activities at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. In 2015 Peter Hegemann, professor and head of group for Experimental Biophysics, was honored with the Hector Science Award. Since then, he has been a member of the Hector Fellow Academy.
The world's leading expert in photobiology is considered a co-founder of optogenetics, which combines methods of optics and genetics to non-invasively stimulate single neurons. His research on algal photoreceptors led to the discovery of light-dependent ion channels. The proteins involved, called "channel rhodopsins," enable precise control of genetically modified cells by light pulses. "Even if you only do basic research (...) you are happy when a broader application of these tools emerges" explains Peter Hegemann in the video portrait. This opens up new possibilities for the treatment of neuronal diseases. For example, innovative treatment methods for Parkinson's disease are being researched or optical pacemakers for the human heart are being developed.
In the Hector Fellow Academy, Peter Hegemann is leading an interdisciplinary project together with Hector Fellow Karl Leo from the Technische Universität Dresden entitled "High-resolution optogenetics with organic light-emitting diodes". The aim of the project is to test novel light-emitting diodes, which can imitate different colours of light, on the light-sensitive proteins and to study signal propagation within a neuronal network.
Young researcher Rodrigo Fernandez Lahore works in Peter Hegemann's team. His doctoral position was funded by the Hector Fellow Academy. In the video portrait, Rodrigo Fernandez Lahore talks about his daily research routine. To study channel rhodopsins, the light-sensitive proteins found on the cell membrane of certain algae, he has to prepare the experiment in many steps in the laboratory. For example, one of Rodrigo Fernandez Lahore's successful projects was to vary the properties of channel rhodopsins.
Approaching new and original research topics with courage is a major concern for researcher Peter Hegemann. He says it is a problem to predict future developments if one only refers to what is currently happening in research. Hegemann is convinced that really good science is created where something completely new is tried out.
Peter Hegemann is also committed to the dialog between science and the public. He is the organizer of the 2023 symposium of the Hector Fellow Academy entitled "Light in Biology — Photosynthesis, Visual Processes and Neuronal Applications". This will take place on July 6, 2023 at 6 p.m. at the Langenbeck-Virchow-Haus in Berlin and via livestream.
The Hector Fellow Academy regularly publishes video portraits of the scientists in its network. The videos provide insights into the diverse research projects of the Hector Fellows and the young scientists. Viewers thus have the opportunity to get to know the Hector Fellow Academy better.