***new address***

Prof. Robert Ernst  

Professor for Molecular Biology

University of Saarland
School of Medicine

Institute of Biochemistry
Kirrberger Strasse
Building 61.4
66421 Homburg (Saar)

AK Ernst
++49 6841 16 47875




15.4.2017: Robert is featured by the Journal of Cell Science as 'Cell Scientists to Watch'. Read about his motivation, path, and hobbies in the current issue of the journal here

1.4.2017: Our proposal "Design principles of living membranes" for the funding scheme "Life?" by the VW foundation has been rewarded with a research grant! It is a joint project with our dear friends Ilya Levental (UTH Houston, Texas, USA), James Sáenz (TU Dresden, GER) and Maya Schuldiner (Weizmann Institute, Tel Aviv, ISR). Fantastico! Go team, go!

1.4.2016: Check out our new address! Our lab has moved to the University of Saarland! We will establish our lab at the Medical Faculty in Homburg in the Institute of Biochemistry as successors of Professor Mathias Montenarh and his team.

Molecular Membrane Biology - Sensing and Signaling

Biological membranes are composed of thousands of lipids and proteins. In fact, membrane proteins and lipids have co-evolved since the origin of life. Common to the primordial vessels of early life and modern multicellular organisms is the necessity to confine and concentrate the reactants of biochemistry, to contain genetic information, and to ward off toxins and invaders. For all these functions, the microenvironment of life must be encapsulated from, but retain the capacity to interface with, its surroundings. Both of these crucial roles are served by cellular membranes, which comprise the responsive interface between life and non-life.

Owing to their complex composition, biological membranes are challenging to study. Our central interest is the crosstalk of lipids and proteins in shaping collective physicochemical membrane properties. How do the organelles of the cell maintain their characteristic membrane properties and thus set the kinetic and thermodynamic stage for cellular signalling? How do aberrant lipid compositions of biological membranes drive cellular stress responses? To address these fundamental questions, our lab follows a strictly interdisciplinary approach, combining biochemistry, biophysics and cell biology.

Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids have gained a celebrity status and are referred to as ‘bad’ and ‘good’ fats. Despite this status, it is entirely unclear how mammalian cells sense their content of lipids with saturated and unsaturated fatty acyl chains. Recently, we have uncovered the mechanism of the membrane property sensor Mga2 from the the baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae that senses the the molecular packing density of lipids deep within the hydrophobic core of the membrane of the ER. Currently, we are characterizing additional, fundamentally distinct mechanisms of membrane property sensors and aim to identify novel membrane sensors in other organelles.

Research Projects