Chair of Cell and Developmental Biology (Zoology I)

fenz lab

Our research focuses on membrane biophysics of living cells and biomimetic model systems.

Research synopsis

Although many vital biological processes have been characterized in extensive detail with regards to contributing players and pathways, physical phenomena like self-organization or diffusion are always present, but not always in the picture. We are interested to elucidate from a physicist’s point of view how membrane processes affect biological functions like cell-cell adhesion, signaling across membranes or defense strategies of parasites. Inherently, these involve a multitude of players and processes. This complexity renders a quantitative approach extremely difficult. Thus, biophysical studies often employ simplified model systems that contain only the key elements. Wherever feasible, comparable in vivo measurements in mammalian culture cells or model organisms are sought for. In order to bridge between both extremes, we are developing advanced cell models.

Our research on membrane biophysics is based on modern light microscopy techniques, especially single-molecule fluorescence microscopy to study dynamic processes and super-resolution microscopy to resolve nanometric structures. Application of these techniques to living cells, in particular swimming flagellates, is highly challenging but feasible.


Past and present collaborators:

J. Groll (U Würzburg) , P. Hogendoorn (Leiden U Medical Center), S. Kubick (Fraunhofer IZI), R. Merkel (Research Centre Jülich), D. Holcman (ENS Paris), T. Schmidt (U Leiden), U. Seifert (U Stuttgart), K. Sengupta (U Aix-Marseille), A.-S. Smith (U of Erlangen-Nürnberg / Institute Ruder Boškovic, Zagreb), E. Snaar-Jagalska (U Leiden), M. Tanaka (U Heidelberg/U Kyoto), J. Teßmar (U Würzburg), M. Weiss (U Bayreuth) 

Recent publications

Bartossek T, Jones NG, Schäfer C, Cvitković M, Glogger M, Mott HR, Kuper J, Brennich M, Carrington M, Smith A-S, Fenz S, Kisker C, Engstler M. Structural basis for the shielding function of the dynamic trypanosome VSG coat, Nature Microbiology, doi:10.1038/s41564-017-0013-6.

Fenz S, Bihr T, Schmidt D, Merkel R, Sengupta K, Seifert U, Smith A.-S. (2017), Membrane fluctuations mediate lateral interaction between cadherin bonds, Nature Physics, doi: 10.1038/NPHYS4138.

Fenz S, Smith A.-S., Monzel C. (2017) Measuring the invisible – Determining the size of growing nanodomains using the “inverse FCS”. Biophysical Journal, doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2017.04.014.

Glogger M., Subota I., Pezzarossa A., Denecke A.-L., Carrington M., Fenz S.F., Engstler M. (2017) Facilitating trypanosome imaging, Experimental Parasitology, doi: 10.1016/ j.exppara.2017.03.010.

Glogger M, Stichler S, Subota I, Bertlein S, Spindler M-C, Tessmar J, Groll J, Engstler M, Fenz S (2017) Live-cell super-resolution imaging of intrinsically fast moving flagellates, Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, doi: 10.1088/1361-6463/aa54eb

Beletkaia E, Fenz S, Pomp W, Snaar-Jagalska B. E., Hogendoorn P. W.C., Schmidt T (2016) CXCR4 signaling is controlled by immobilization at the plasma membrane, BBA: Molecular Cell Research, doi: 10.1016/j.bbamcr.2015.12.020

Hartel AJW, Glogger M, Jones NG, Abuillan W, Batram C, Hermann A, Fenz SF, Tanaka M, Engstler M (2016) N-glycosylation enables high lateral mobility of GPI-anchored proteins at a molecular crowding threshold. Nature Communications, doi: 10.1038/ncomms12870.



Cell Adhesion is more than a handshake between binders. What role does physics play?


Membrane biophysics

We employ cell models and model cells to shed light on membranes as multitasking organelles at the cellular interface with the outside.


“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen…” (Saint-Exupery), but we try anyway.