About us

MCB is a research division of the Biology & Chemistry Department of the University of Osnabrück led by Prof. Joost Holthuis. The division investigates the molecular mechanisms behind vital processes that involve biological membranes. Biological membranes form the boundaries of cells and cellular organelles, creating barriers that separate in from out. Their basic structure is a bilayer, built up of many different lipids, in which proteins are embedded that carry out many of the membrane’s specific tasks. These proteins and lipids co-evolved since the origin of life. How they influence each other’s behavior in cellular bilayers provides an enigma that will confront molecular life scientists for many years to come.


Our central interest is the cross-talk between proteins and lipids that governs membrane organization and function in cells. In particular, we investigate how cells maintain an amazing diversity of lipids and non-random lipid distributions among their membrane-bound organelles, how the underlying protein machinery of lipid converters, sensors and flippases mediate membrane lipid homeostasis, and how dysfunction of this machinery leads to system failure and disease. To address these questions, we combine advanced chemical biology approaches with an array of biophysical, molecular and cell biological techniques. Our studies occur at a broad range of levels, from single molecules and model membrane systems to genetically tractable organisms. Our interdisciplinary approaches have led to innovative concepts on lipid sensing and signaling that may provide the basis for novel therapeutic modalities to fight disease. Throughout, we strive to be inspiring teachers and mentors for young scientists and for society at large.


Our division participates in the Collaborative Research Center 1557, a DFG-funded consortium of 15 research groups from the Universities of Osnabrück, Hamburg and Münster that share a common interest in studying the dynamic sub-organellar organization of proteins and lipids through super-resolution live cell imaging techniques. We are the scientific coordinators of Sphingonet, a Marie Curie-funded pan-European training & research consortium exploiting chemical and systems biology approaches to unravel the full regulatory potential of the body-wide sphingolipid signaling network and exploit its therapeutic use. We are also affiliated with the Bijvoet Center for Biomolecular Research and the Institute of Biomembranes at Utrecht University.