Our research program is entitled "Nutritional Gerontotoxicology" and thus supports the research focus of the Institute of Nutritional Sciences in the field of "Molecular Mechanisms of Nutrition-Dependent Homeostasis and Dysfunction".
Our research acts at the interface between toxicology, nutritional science and gerontology.
- Toxicology examines the harmful effects of chemical and biological substances as well as radiation on living organisms, especially humans. One of the main routes of exposure to toxic substances is through food intake.
- Nutritional science deals with the composition of food and its effects on the human body. This leads to a close connection between toxicological and nutritional research topics.
- Gerontology as a science of aging aims to understand biological aging processes at the molecular level and to identify intervention options and preventive measures for a long and and healthy life.
While approximately one-third of human lifespan variability is determined by genetic factors, environmental factors are another important determinant of human lifespan and healthspan. The fact that environmental factors can significantly influence the human aging process is impressively demonstrated by accelerated skin aging as a result of intensive UV radiation exposure (i.e.,"photoaging") and in heavy smokers. First results indicate an influence of food ingredients on the aging process and the development of age-related diseases (e.g. by arsenic, alcohol, and DNA-damaging substances). There is a great need for more comprehensive research activities in this direction. In particular, it is important to better elucidate the underlying molecular and cell-biological mechanisms and to better understand the interaction of different food ingredients and toxicants in biological systems. The aim of our research activities is to contribute to a better understanding of these mechanisms in order to create a basis for the development of disease-preventing and longevity-promoting foods and nutritional concepts. In addition, the results should contribute to the risk assessment of food ingredients in order to support the development of regulatory measures.
The following questions are in the focus of our interest:
- How do diet and potentially toxic food ingredients influence mechanisms of aging and the development of age-related diseases?
- Do biological model systems and organisms of different age react to nutritionally relevant toxic stimuli in an age-dependent manner?
- What are the underlying molecular, cell-biological and organismic mechanisms of action?
- How does the effect of mixtures of substances (to which people are exposed under real conditions) differ from the effect of individual substances (which have so far mainly been tested under laboratory conditions)?
- Can preventive measures (e.g. adjustments to regulatory measures), pharmacological interventions (e.g. use of dietary supplements) and nutritional recommendations be derived in order to enable a long and healthy life and to avoid the development of age-related diseases?
- DNA damaging agents and genetic toxicology
- Genomic stability and DNA repair
- PARPs and poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation
- NAD+ metabolism and "NAD+ boosters"
- Exposome and mixture toxicology
Model systems and methodology
In accordance with the 3R concept, we exclusively use biological model systems and model organisms (i.e., C. elegans) legally free of animal experimention. This includes innovative human cell culture models as well as the nematode worm C. elegans, which is an established model system in toxicology, nutrition and aging research. These systems offer the advantage of relatively easy accessibility for genetic manipulations (e.g, CRISPR-Cas9, RNA interference) and pharmacological-toxicological investigations in order to carry out mechanistic studies at the molecular and cellular level. In addition, these model systems are very well suited for microscopic and fluorescence-based high-throughput analysis in order to determine toxicologically and gerontologically relevant biochemical and cell-biological endpoints and biomarkers. Furthermore, the determination of bioanalytical parameters is essential for our research, which is mainly based on sensitive mass spectrometric methods.
To advance our research, we work together with university-based and non-university partners at local, national and international levels and are generally open to new interesting scientific cooperations.