Research in the Faculty of Biological Sciences has a focus on three main areas, to which particularly important contributions have been made or are expected from Jena. These focal points are microbial communication, biodiversity and evolution and the regulation of age-associated processes. The close cooperation between the non-university institutes and the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena is ensured, among other things, by the fact that the directors and also many heads of working groups at the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology - Hans Knöll Institute (HKI) and at the Leibniz Institute on Aging - Fritz Lipmann Institute (FLI) are also professors at the university; most of them in the Faculty of Biosciences.
The Institute of Microbiology can refer to a particularly successful collaborative research, for which the close cooperation with the HKI was an essential prerequisite. The HKI not only strengthens the impact of Jena's microbiology in terms of personnel and the excellent infrastructure of the institute, but also builds a bridge to the Medical Faculty.
Microbiology also forms the thematic core of the "Balance of the Microverse" excellence cluster, which has been funded in the national competition since 2019. However, research in this field goes far beyond microbiology in the narrower sense and networks numerous working groups in this research field, which is also important for health, the preservation of natural resources and nutrition.
Diversity of life
The special research area AquaDiva bridges the gap to the second research focus of the faculty, biodiversity research. In this field, the Faculty of Biological Sciences has been successfully connected with the Faculty of Chemistry and Earth Sciences for a long time. This connection is strengthened by the involvement of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology (MPI CE), the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (MPI BGC) and – beyond Jena – by the contractually agreed partnership with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) Leipzig/Halle. The research infrastructure built up in recent decades in the field of biodiversity research has earned Jena international recognition in this field. It is a DFG-funded research platform on which scientists from all over the world can carry out experiments and observations. The results published so far have attracted considerable international attention.
The greatest success in establishing research structures in biodiversity research was certainly the acquisition of the DFG Research Centre "iDiv - German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research". Together with the Universities of Halle and Leipzig, with which a network has existed for many years, as well as with other partners, this new institution will help to determine the course of biodiversity research worldwide. It will be complemented in Jena by the traditional evolutionary biodiversity research of ecology, zoology and botany with its special facilities, the Phyletic Museum, the Botanical Garden and the Herbarium Haussknecht. These institutions, like the Ernst Haeckel House and the Jena Collection of Microorganisms, belong to the institutions of Biology in Jena that are scientifically globally networked and also shape the cultural face of Jena. Scientists of the Institute of Special Zoology and Evolution with their expertise in morphology are integrated into a worldwide network for deciphering the most successful animal group on earth, the insects. On this basis, the role of insects in ecosystems, their evolution and their significance for humans can be better assessed.
The challenge of aging
A third research focus is linked to the problems and challenges of demographic change, the shaping of which is also of great importance for Thuringia's future. With the Leibniz Institute on Aging as a strong partner, working groups of our faculty are concerned with the biological aspects of aging. In the newly founded Aging Research Center, the research framework is further extended and also includes scientists from the social and economic sciences, from the Faculties of Philosophy and Theology. The foundation of the Jena Centre for Systems Biology of Ageing (JenAge) in 2009 shows that Jena is already working successfully in this field of research. The reason for the foundation of the centre was the successful acquisition of the Gerontosys project from the BMBF, in which the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding research work in the field of systems biology of health in old age for more than ten years.
Due to the complexity of the central problems, modern research places high demands on interdisciplinary cooperation and requires a high degree of interdisciplinary competence, for example in the field of computer science. Bioinformatics, which has been jointly anchored in the Faculty of Biological Sciences and the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science from the outset, does justice to this task in Jena by contributing its expertise to many collaborative projects. Since 2007, bioinformatics and systems biology have been organised in the Jena Centre for Bioinformatics (JCB).
Research centres for interdisciplinary cooperation
In recent years, a network of research cooperations has been established at the University of Jena in addition to the classical faculty structure. Complex issues have led to the establishment of research centers, with the aim of structuring and permanently securing interdisciplinary cooperation. The faculty as such, but also several of its scientists, are represented in many of these centers, such as the Abbe Center of Photonics (ACP), the Research Centers "Laboratorium Aufklärung" and “Verbund Biomedizinische Forschung”, and the Jena Center for Soft Matter (JCSM), in which polymers with novel material properties are investigated.
Two further funding formats should be mentioned here because they make a special contribution to the visibility of biological research in Jena: the graduate schools and the research groups. Graduate schools are a relatively young form of university education. Here, in addition to the possibility of working on their own research projects, doctoral students are offered structured qualification programmes. If the graduate schools are supported by third-party funding, many additional young scientists from all over the world can be offered an opportunity to work in Thuringia. The increasing internationalisation of the University of Jena is particularly evident in the doctoral schools. Currently, members of the faculty are involved in more than ten structured doctoral programmes.