Olaf Scholz and Dr. Manja Schüle Visit DIfE

In his role as the Member of Parliament for the constituency of Potsdam-Mittelmark II, on Monday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, together with Minister for Science, Research, and Culture for the State of Brandenburg (MWFK), Dr. Manja Schüle, visited the DZD partner the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbruecke (DIfE). During the visit, part of his summer tour, the Chancellor was shown how diet affects health, how research findings find application in preventive measures and therapeutic options for diet-related diseases, and the role of sustainability and climate neutrality at the DIfE.

Prof. Tilman Grune and Dr. Birgit Schröder-Smeibidl welcome Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Minister Dr. Manja Schüle. © Carolin Schrandt/DIfE

Focusing on prevention research and sustainability
This week started with a very special event at the DIfE: In bright sunshine, Prof. Dr. Tilman Grune and Dr. Birgit Schröder-Smeibidl, DIfE board members, welcomed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Brandenburg’s Minister for Science, Dr. Manja Schüle, to the Gerty Cori Building. During a short conversation, the SPD politicians were given insights into the institute’s main research topics and strategic direction. During the conversation, the institute’s scientific director, Prof. Grune, stressed the significance of prevention research in Germany: “Looking at the current rates of disease, it is enormously important that we work to combat the root causes of diet-related diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Preventive measures are crucial to minimize the suffering of those affected and relieve the healthcare system over the long term. For this reason, it is essential that prevention research continues to be funded”. Subsequently, the administrative director, Dr. Schröder-Smeibidl, explained the renovation of the older DIfE building, which began in 2021 and is funded by the federal and state governments to the tune of 19.1 million euros, as well as using the innovative approach of building a power plant to provide heating and cooling.

In dialogue with staff from the research and administration departments
After the small group discussion, four staff members from the fields of science and administration presented their work at the DIfE using short 90-second presentations. First up was Prof. Dr. Annette Schürmann, Head of the Department for Experimental Diabetology and spokesperson for the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD), who demonstrated the urgent need for action in type 2 diabetes prevention. Next, Dr. Sören Ocvirk, Project Leader of the Research Group Intestinal Microbiology, explained the importance of the various types of gut microbiota and how they can be maintained via a healthy diet. Finally, Selma Yagoub, Doctoral Student at the Junior Research Group of Neurocircuit Development and Function, described how the mother’s diet during pregnancy influences the child’s development of neurocircuits.

Prof. Annette Schürmann explains the relationship between obesity and type 2 diabetes. © Juliane Dräger/DIfE

A climate neutral research facility by 2035
Following the discussion of scientific topics, Mathias Noll, Head of the Department for Facility Management, explained the challenges and solutions on the way to a climate-neutral research facility. “As part of the Leibniz Association-funded pilot project “Climate Neutral Research Facility,” we will develop concepts and tools for climate-neutral scientific work and then present these ideas to the Leibniz Association as part of our contribution to sustainability. With funding from the package provided by the State of Brandenburg, the first measures to reduce CO2 emissions should be implemented by the end of 2024,” said Noll. Dr. Schröder-Smeibidl underscored the plans: “With the ongoing major renovation works and the construction of a new power plant, we are taking a huge step closer towards reducing the DIfE’s dependence on fossil fuels and our goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2035.”

A flying visit to the human study center and biobank
At the end of their one-hour visit, Olaf Scholz and Manja Schüle took a short tour of the Human Study Center (HSZ) and the adjoining Biobank. The Head of the HSZ, Dr. Sonja Schieß, explained how the HSZ supports both DIfE researchers and those from external facilities in generating and managing research data and samples. Upon arrival at the biobank, Dr. Schieß handed over to Peggy Großmann, who showed the guests the Biobank’s centerpiece: a robotic sample management system that can store up to 180,000 human biosamples at between -150 and -180 °C using automated handling to facilitate storage and retrieval.

Research at the highest international level
Olaf Scholz summarized the impressions and insights gained during his visit in the following statement: “Nutrition is something essential to all humans. Knowing how a diet can be designed to allow us to live well and in good health is important. For this reason, it is essential that research at the highest international level continues here and that these findings filter over time into our everyday lives.” Dr. Manja Schüle added, “There is a saying “you are what you eat.”  DIfE research aims to identify foods that are good for us. The risk of widespread diseases such as type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease depends significantly on our diet. Yet, how are decisions relating to our diet made in the brain, and how can these processes be modified?  How does the body react to certain types of diets?  Using excellent experimental and application-orientated fundamental research, the DIfE is working on these questions and others to be faced in the future. With its great tradition, this institute is an engine for nutritional and healthcare sciences in Brandenburg and a key player in scientific communication. These are things - more science, more proposed solutions, and more discourse - that we can never have enough of!”