Outstanding research and publications

Alex Mauss and Fiona Müllner receive Young Scientist Award

Alex Mauss (with his department head Alexander Borst, left) and Fiona Müllner (with department head Tobias Bonhoeffer, right side) receive the Young Scientist Award. The Institute's Managing Director, Herwig Baier (center), presented the awards.

The internet contains innumerous "proof" for all kinds of opinion. However, how valid are the presented findings? Do they represent exceptions, chance findings, or even the attempt to manipulate opinion?

In order to obviate such doubts, scientific results need to be published in peer reviewed journals since the 17th century. This ensures a continuously high quality of the research: Published results can – and will – be scrutinized by other scientists. Furthermore, publicizing results make them accessible to scientists all over the world, enabling the integration of the new facts into other studies and thus to further advance human knowledge.

The Young Scientist Award recognizes outstanding scientific publications. Every year, two excellent young scientists of the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology are honored with this award, which comes with 1.000 Euro prize money. The awardees for the year 2015 are Dr. Alex Mauss and Dr. Fiona Müllner.

The awardees and their publications

Alex Mauss: Cellular motion filters
Opponent activity of a new type of neuron is responsible for selective motion vision

Motion despite immobility. The illusion of self-motion is created, for example, in an IMAX cinema with the help of large-format movies. This is possible, because the brain calculates self-motion from the visual surround moving past the eyes. Deciphering how this is accomplished is the aim of Alexander Borst and his team at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried. Together with colleagues from the Janelia Research Campus in Virginia (USA), the researchers have now discovered a new neuron type in the brain of fruit flies. Detailed analysis has shown that these cells form the basis of a phenomenon known as motion opponency, meaning that - in humans and other species - specific nerve cells are activated by motion in one direction and inhibited by motion in the opposite direction. By studying the newly discovered cells, the researchers have been able to investigate this phenomenon in detail and elucidate its function for the first time. (Cell, July 2015)

Alex Mauss studied Biology at the University of Mainz. For his PhD studies, he moved to the University of Cambridge (UK). ). Afterwards, he worked at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole (USA) In 2010, he came to the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, where he works as a project leader in the department Circuits – Computation – Models, led by Alexander Borst.

Fiona Müllner: Inhibitory synapses influence signals in the brain with high precision
Nerve cell signals can be modulated and blocked by individual contacts

In our brain, information is passed from one cell to the next via trillions of synapses. However, optimal data flow is not just about the transfer of information; its targeted inhibition is also a key factor. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried have now been able to show in mice that even individual inhibitory synapses can have a major influence on signal processing. The study provides an important piece in the puzzle for understanding this fundamental brain function, which is also a factor in a number of illnesses. (Neuron, August 2015)

Fiona Müllner studied molecular medicine and mathematics at the Universities of Heidelberg, Freiburg and Yale (New Haven, USA). She gained her diploma at the University of Freiburg and came for her PhD to the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in 2009. Here, she worked in the department of Tobias Bonhoeffer. Since September 2015, Fiona Müllner works at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel (Switzerlang).

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