Daniel Gerlich

Daniel Gerlich studied Biology at the University of Freiburg and completed his PhD thesis at the German Cancer Research Center and the University of Heidelberg in 2002. Following postdoctoral research in Jan Ellenberg's laboratory at EMBL Heidelberg, Dr. Gerlich established his independent laboratory as Assistant Professor at ETH Zurich in 2005. He moved to the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) at the Vienna BioCenter to take a position as senior research group leader in 2012. Dr. Gerlich’s research combines cell biology, biophysics, biochemistry, and computer science approaches to address fundamental questions about cellular self-organization and biomechanics during cell division. Throughout his career, Dr. Gerlich has developed technology for high-throughput microscopy, computer vision, and machine learning. With this, his team has revealed new principles underlying mitotic chromosome mechanics, including a surfactant-like protein that establishes a repulsive surface on mitotic chromosomes and a chromatin network that specifies the geometry of a single nucleus during mitotic exit. He further discovered a new filament type that splits cells apart during the final stages of cell division. Dr. Gerlich’s research has been honored by various awards, including a European Young Investigator Award of the European Research Council (2005), an EMBO Young Investigator Program membership (2009), an ERC Starting grant (2012), and an EMBO membership (2017).

Chromosome mechanics during nuclear assembly

A hallmark of eukaryotic cells is that they store all their chromosomes in a single nucleus. This is important for the maintenance of genomic integrity, as individual chromosomes packaged into separate micronuclei are prone to massive DNA damage. Animal cells undergo an open mitosis, in which the cell disassembles its nucleus to release a set of individualized chromosomes. At the end of mitosis, cells reassemble a single nucleus around a complete set of chromosomes, utilizing endoplasmic reticulum-derived membranes. How cells restrict the nuclear envelope to the surface around the set of anaphase chromosomes has remained unclear. By a live-cell microscopy RNAi screen, we identified the protein barrier-to-autointegration factor (BAF) to be a major factor in shaping a single nucleus. Using mutagenesis and CRISPR-mediated genome engineering, we found that BAF provides this function by cross-bridging distant DNA segments into a dense chromatin network. In vitro characterization of purified chromatin and recombinant BAF proteins with atomic force microscopy showed that BAF forms a rigid shell at the chromatin surface. In cells, this restricts membranes to the surface formed by the set of anaphase chromosomes, thereby preventing the formation of micronuclei. Thus, BAF regulates chromosome mechanics to shape a single nucleus during mitotic exit.  


M. Samwer, M.W.G. Schneider, R. Hoefler, P.S. Schmalhorst, J.G. Jude, J. Zuber, D.W. Gerlich. DNA cross-bridging shapes a single nucleus from a set of mitotic chromosomes. Cell. (2017). 170(5).

S. Cuylen, C. Blaukopf, A. Z. Politi, T. Müller-Reichert, B. Neumann, I. Poser, J. Ellenberg, A. A. Hyman, D. W. Gerlich. Ki-67 acts as a biological surfactant to disperse mitotic chromosomes. Nature. (2016). 535(7611).