DFG to Fund Two RWTH-coordinated Priority Programs


The German Research Foundation DFG has decided to establish 14 new Priority Programs, two of which will be coordinated by RWTH Aachen University. The “Auditory Cognition in Interactive Virtual Environments – AUDICTIVE,” which has been initiated by researchers from RWTH, the University of Oldenburg, and TU Ilmenau, is coordinated by Janina Fels, professor of Medical Acoustics at the RWTH Institute of Technical Acoustics.

The Priority Program “Exit Strategies of Intracellular Pathogens” is conducted by researchers from 18 German research institutions, including the Robert Koch Institute Wernigerode, Heidelberg University Hospital, Universitätsklinikum Freiburg, and RWTH Aachen University. Gabriele Pradel, professor of Cellular and Applied Infection Biology at RWTH, coordinates the research activities of the consortium.

DFG Priority Programs focus on fundamental research questions in emerging or trending areas of research. The newly established interdisciplinary programs, starting in 2020, are expected to take creative approaches to research and use innovative methods.


Auditory Cognition in Interactive Virtual Environments – AUDICTIVE

Over the past years, considerable progress has been made in the understanding of auditory cognitive processes and capabilities – from perception, attention and memory to complex performances such as scene analysis and communication. To this aim, well controlled but often unrealistic stimulus presentations were used, involving simple instances of virtual environments.

With recent developments in hardware- and software technologies, audiovisual virtual reality (VR) has reached a high level of perceptual plausibility that overcomes the limitations of simple laboratory settings. Applying interactive VR technology is expected to help understand auditory cognition in complex audiovisual scenes that are close to real life, including acoustically adverse situations such as classrooms, open-plan offices, multi-party communication or outdoor scenarios with multiple (moving) sound sources. In particular, VR enables controlled research on how acoustic and visual components and further contextual factors affect the ability to interact with the scene.

Integrating research in the disciplines of acoustics, cognitive psychology, and virtual reality/computer science, the priority program seeks to significantly extend the knowledge of hearing-related cognitive performances in real-life scenes and to enable creating “auditory-cognition-validated” VR technology.


Exit Strategies of Intracellular Pathogens

Many bacterial, fungal and protozoan pathogens pass through a life-cycle phase, during which they persist or multiply inside host cells. However, eventually they need to exit the enveloping cell to ensure life-cycle progression. Hence, host cell exit is intimately linked to microbial pathogenesis and crucial for spread of the disease.

The mechanisms and effector molecules involved in this process remain largely unresolved. Three distinct pathways of host cell exit have been postulated, which appear to have convergently evolved among the otherwise highly diverse groups of bacterial, fungal and protozoan pathogens.

These pathways include the initiation of programmed cell death; the active lytic destruction of the host cell; and the membrane-dependent exit without host cell lysis. Increasing evidence indicates that the majority of intracellular pathogens utilize more than one of these pathways, dependent on life-cycle stage, environmental factors and/or host cell type.

Molecules involved in the exit process are essential for microbial survival and spread and thus represent important antimicrobial targets, as illustrated for example by the recent finding that chemical inhibition of plasmodial proteases involved in the egress of the malaria parasite from the enveloping erythrocyte can block disease progression.

The priority program aims at exploring the exit strategies used by important human pathogens, including the infectious agents of diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and typhoid fever. The researchers seek to characterize the spectrum of convergently evolved exit pathways employed by pathogens, dissect the molecular mechanisms that mediate the exit from their host cells and cellular compartments, and unveil the link between exit strategy and disease pathogenesis.

The overall goal of the priority program is to advance our fundamental understanding of microbial pathogenesis and identify novel interventional targets to fight infections of worldwide importance.