Looking ahead in Biology - Research at ELTE Institute of Biology

Looking ahead in Biology -
Research at ELTE Institute of Biology

The Institute of Biology at the Eötvös Loránd University has twelve departments covering wide areas in the life sciences. More than eighty faculty members work in close collaboration with over one hundred researchers who are associated with the institute through various fellowships, grants, and collaborative industrial projects.

Evolutionary approaches are very popular, and present a traditional focus in diverse research areas. The book titled ‘The Major Transitions in Evolution’ and authored by Eörs Szathmary together with John Maynard Smith has quickly become a must-read textbook for every biologist interested in the broad perspective of the origins of life. Evolution on a microscale has also been studied to find out how species of birds accommodate to local environmental changes. The more than thirty-year-long observation of the collared flycatcher in the Pilis Mountains is a unique example of building a database that combines morphological, behavioural, reproductive, and environmental information. Ecologists also put great effort into saving the habitat of the endangered lesser mole-rat, while botanists work towards saving and conserving forests in Hungary by helping to introduce ecologically more sustainable forestry.

After studying the myosin molecules for over fifty years, biochemists at the institute have been able to demonstrate that non-muscle myosin directly governs neurite growth and synapse structures, which are responsible for brain plasticity essential to learning and regeneration. These findings led to the development of Neurelaxin, which promotes neurite growth in neurodegenerative diseases.

Pioneering research on autophagy started as early as the 1950s. Cell biologists at the institute were the first to use specific dyes to colour lysosomes. Afterwards, their students got interested in understanding better the molecular mechanism and genetic control of the process. The first mutant Drosophila line with inhibited autophagy was developed by them a few years later. Autophagy plays a major role in the process of aging, so besides learning more about this molecular mechanism, researchers also aim at finding drugs to modulate senescence.

The institute has close links with leading pharmaceutical companies, such as the Gedeon Richter Plc. and the Egis Pharmaceuticals Plc. Many scientists are currently engaged in the Institutional Excellence Program (FIKP) that allows closer relations with several industrial partners. In recent years, it has become an important strategy to launch research projects with strong applied focus. This led to the establishment of Molecular Biomarker Research and Service Centre (FIEK), which aims at becoming a hub for biotechnology in Hungary.

The institute has partnerships with many major universities all over the world through professional co-operation or institutional agreements. Students and researchers from the whole world visit the institute and participate in its scientific activities. Apart from focusing on research in ecology and molecular biology, neurobiology has become a new frontier. From the cellular level to non-invasive brain imaging, various animal and human models are being developed to understand better the neural basis of the aging process and mental functioning.