Investigation of zinc homeostasis and signaling: To better understand the various biological roles of zinc, we investigate its function in signal transduction. This includes measuring zinc signals, identification of their molecular target structures (e.g., protein tyrosine phosphatases) and investigation of the biological functions of these signals. The immune system is a particularly important target organ for essential as well as toxic food components. Consequently, investigation of immune cell signaling will plays central role in our experiments. Additionally, we also investigate model systems for other organs. One example is intestinal cell lines, which we use for investigating issues such as the impact of food components on metal ion bioavailability.
Mechanism of action of toxic heavy metals: In addition to essential trace elements, toxic metal ions, such as cadmium, lead, and mercury, are food components with exceptional importance for food quality and nutrition safety. Their presence can be a considerable health risk and our research has shown that this is directly linked to essential trace elements. In particular the elements with chemical similarities to zinc show a comparable affinity to cysteine thiols, hereby inhibiting the activity of several zinc-regulated enzymes. While this is a physiological function for zinc ions, it also explains some of the toxic effects that other metals show. Hence, our work deals with the detection, bioavailability (especially in food) and toxicological effects of these metals.
Antimicrobial textiles: Food chemistry includes investigation of certain aspects of articles of daily use, including textiles. In an ongoing collaboration with Prof. Boris Mahltig (Hochschule Niederrhein, Germany) we pursue the development and toxicological characterization of anti-microbial functionalized textiles. The ultimate goal is the developments of fabrics that show a controlled release of antimicrobial substances to reduce the risk for bacterial infections. To this end, various materials (e.g., algae, silicates, and nanoparticles) and metals (e.g. Ag, Cu, Zn) are utilized. Hereby, the expertise for textile finishings is provided by Prof. Mahltig, whereas the biological testing is performed at TU Berlin, measuring antimicrobial effectiveness as well as potential interactions with human cells.