Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research

Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research

The Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research carries out basic molecular biological research on plants. The goal of the Cologne-based scientists is to improve conventional breeding methods and to develop environmentally-friendly plant protection strategies for crops. They focus mainly on the evolution of plants, their genetic blueprint, their development and their interactions with the environment. How does a plant's immune system react to pests, for example? How does the time of flowering depend on the seasonally changing length of the day? How does the genetic variability of crops affect how they adapt to specific environmental influences? The botanists, geneticists and plant physiologists work both in the laboratory and in greenhouses, searching for the molecular basis of natural diversity, and thus make innovative contributions to plant breeding.


Carl-von-Linné-Weg 10
50829 Köln
Phone: +49 221 5062-0
Fax: +49 221 5062-674

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):
IMPRS on Understanding Complex Plant Traits using Computational and Evolutionary Approaches

In addition, there is the possibility of individual doctoral research. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

Department Department of Plant Developmental Biology more
Department Plant Microbe Interactions more
Department Comparative Development and Genetics more
A jigsaw puzzle of plant cells
The epidermal cells of many plant organs resemble the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle helping them withstand the high pressure in their interior more
Enhancing leaf shape diversity
A small piece of DNA with a large effect on leaf shape more
Not without my microbiome
When nodule bacteria supply plants with atmospheric nitrogen, characteristic microbial communities that drive plant growth become established in the root. more
Exploding seed pods
A mathematical model explains how popping cress catapults its seeds into the air more
A few modifications in the genome turn a fungal plant pathogen into a potentially beneficial organism more
Plants take on fungal tenants on demand
Innate immune system of the thale cress plant ensures a good phosphate supply more
Researchers cultivate the majority of bacteria in the laboratory that colonize Arabidopsis plants in nature more
New insight into leaf shape diversity
Pleiotropy influences the genes shaping leaf diversity more
Tomato domestication decelerated the circadian clock
Wild and domesticated varieties of tomato have a different circadian rhythm more
Timing is everything – for plants too
Variation in leaf shapes within a plant species is caused by differences in how fast plants develop more
Researchers block plant hormone
A small molecule inhibits jasmonic acid and helps to explain its effects more
Gene for dissected leaves

Gene for dissected leaves

February 14, 2014
Arabidopsis thaliana lost the RCO gene over the course of evolution and thus forms simple leaves more
Census in the plant root

Census in the plant root

January 21, 2014
Bacterial communities that colonise plant roots reflect the plant’s species affiliation and location preferences more
Immune system's errand boy

Immune system's errand boy

December 16, 2013
Signalling pathway links local and systemic plant immunity more
<p>Molecular snapshot of the plant immune system’s signal box</p>
The molecular architecture of three key proteins and their complexes reveals how plants fine-tune their immune response to pathogens more

Genes against Drought

MPR 3 /2010 Environment & Climate
In many regions of the world, agriculture is threatened by a lack of water. New plant varieties must thus be developed that are especially resistant to drought.
Bioinformatics Position
Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research, Cologne May 14, 2018
To improve crop quality and yield, breeders need to control the fertility of stamens, the male organs that produce pollen within sacs called anthers. For example, it would be ideal to manipulate at will the release of pollen from anthers. However, this firstly requires a detailed understanding of how anther cells themselves activate pollen release. In barley, this activation seems to be triggered by the phytohormone auxin and requires enzymes to separate specific cells from each other to finally open the anthers. more

Plant boundary zones initiate development of new meristems

2017 Mulki, Muhammad Aman; Rossmann, Susanne; Theres, Klaus
Plant Research
Boundary zones were previously seen as physical barriers that separate plant tissues and thus allow the development of functional organs. However, recent studies revealed that boundaries, like those between the shoot apical meristem and leaf primordia and those between leaflets, also serve as launching pads for secondary meristem formation and play an important role in determining plant architecture. Interestingly, establishment of boundary zones during shoot branching and complex leaf development is regulated by homologous genes. more

Robustness and tunability of the plant immune system

2016 Tsuda, Kenichi; Berens, Matthias L.
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Plant Research
Plants sense microbial molecules to trigger innate immunity for protection from pathogens. However, microbes have evolved broad virulence factors that interfere with plant immune components. Therefore, immune mechanisms must be robust to cope with microbial perturbations. In addition, since too much immune response is detrimental for plant fitness, plant immune responses need to be tuned. The scientists study how plant immune signaling networks achieve the properties robustness and tunability using molecular genetics, genomics and computational modeling. more

Exploring the role of protein post-translational modifications in the regulation of plant metabolism

2015 Finkemeier, Iris
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Plant Research
Depending on the environmental conditions, plants can rapidly alter their metabolism. Post-translational modification of proteins seems to play key roles during this adaptation. Reversible acetylation of lysine residues in proteins has recently emerged as post-translational modification controlling many important cellular functions beyond transcription. The identification of acetylation sites on metabolic enzymes in plants is a first step to uncover its physiological role in metabolism. more

Developing the next generation of algorithms to understand the impact of the genotype on the phenotype

2015 Willing, Eva-Maria; Schneeberger, Korbinian
Genetics Plant Research
Individual genetic alterations can have direct impact on the phenotypes of the respective organisms. Such mutations can be useful for functional annotation of the respective regions of the genome and can be found between wildtype and mutant genomes, between distinct individuals of the same species, and between the genomic sequences of diverse species. The group develops new approaches to identify and to distinguish such differences from all other changes that do not affect the phenotypes. more

Meristem specific expression of epigenetic regulators facilitates inactivation of transposable elements in Arabidopsis thaliana

2014 Pecinka, Ales; Finke, Andreas
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Plant Research

Due to their potential risk for the genome integrity and thus the viability of an organism, transposable elements are kept inactive. Among others, the mechanism of RNA-directed DNA methylation facilitates this inactivation in plants. Recent investigations discovered a new shoot apical meristem specific function of this mechanism. It reinforces silencing of these elements during the early phase of vegetative growth and counteracts their drug-induced activation. It furthermore provides a checkpoint for correct epigenetic inheritance during the transition from vegetative to reproductive phase.


The biomechanics of morphogenesis

2014 Smith, Richard S.
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Plant Research
Morphogenesis and growth are processes driven by genetic and signaling networks. Although many genetic components controlling plant organ shape have been identified, how they control the mechanical properties of cells remains elusive. In animal systems recent studies have shown that mechanical forces can feed back on genetic programs and even appear to be capable of influencing cell fate. Do such feedbacks exist in plants? What is the role of mechanics in morphogenesis? We address these questions by combining the expertise of physicists, biologists and computational modelers. more

Regulatory roles of plant TFIIH protein kinases

2013 Koncz, Csaba
Developmental Biology Plant Research

RNA polymerase II transcribes protein coding and several classes of regulatory RNAs in multicellular organisms. The C-terminal domain of the RNAPII largest subunit, RNAPII-CTD, carries conserved heptapeptide repeats that are phosphorylated at different residues by a protein kinase cascade in Arabidopsis. Recent studies start to reveal how phosphorylation of the RNAPII-CTD by TFIIH-associated protein kinases regulates growth and development via coordinated control of transcription, cell cycle and biogenesis of microRNAs and small silencing siRNAs.


Cooperative threat: How interactions with associated organisms increase plant pathogen fitness

2013 Kemen, Eric
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Plant Research
New plant diseases emerge regularly being a threat for food security. Some pathogens cause epidemics on living plants only and are called biotrophs. Comparative genomics revealed a loss of essential metabolic pathways leading to biotrophy. However, gene loss is only possible due to the ability to suppress host defense. Defense suppression and adaptability requires a large gene pool that is acquired by sexual recombination or interaction with other organisms. To get a comprehensive view on how new pathogens emerge it is important to dissect their interaction within natural habitats. more

The makings of a robust plant immune system

2012 Parker, Jane E.
Plant Research
Plants display remarkable robustness against attempted pathogen infection and in their natural environment disease is the exception. Analysis of Arabidopsis plants is illuminating some fundamental processes by which plants recognize and resist microbial pathogen invasion. What emerges from recent studies is a set of distinct immune response branches in different parts of the host cell which are strictly coordinated to produce effective immunity. more
Many traits that play important roles in plant breeding are complex, meaning that they are controlled by multiple genetic and environmental factors. Knowledge of the corresponding genes facilitates early diagnoses of complex traits and thereby increases the efficiency and precision of breeding new varieties of crop plants. To identify such genes, association-studies for complex traits of potato were conducted at the institute. Highly significant associations were identified between candidate genes and complex traits such as resistance to potato late blight disease. more

The sleeping and waking of plant seeds

2011 Zöll, Christian; Soppe, Wim J. J.
Plant Research
Viable plant seeds are not always able to germinate and can cycle between a sleeping (dormant) and awake (non-dormant) state. Dormancy prevents germination during unfavourable seasons, an ability that has been lost in most of our crop species. The molecular regulation of seed dormancy is largely unknown. The Seed Dormancy Group has identified components of this control by isolating seed dormancy genes. more
Most traits which are important for fitness and agricultural value of crops are so-called quantitative traits. A large number of genes which interact with each other and are influenced by environmental factors contribute to variation of these traits. Understanding the genetic architecture of quantitative traits is not only important with respect to basic science but will also dramatically facilitate practical plant breeding. more

Chromatin structure and gene control

2010 Turck, Franziska
Genetics Plant Research
Each cell of higher organisms contains a nucleus where the genetic material is tightly packed. In order to utilize genes, parts of the genetic material need to be unpacked, and protein complexes are involved in the process. Other protein complexes, conversely, function to prevent access to genes disabling gene expression. more

Making connections: Data integration in biology

2010 Schoof, Heiko
Computer Science Genetics Plant Research
Modern molecular biology employs high-throughput methods, for example to determine genome sequences. Their analysis and interpretation increasingly requires integration of heterogeneous data. Standards for access to biological data and web service technologies can facilitate automated finding and invocation of bioinformatics resources. more

Are MADS-box genes a key to the understanding of the development and evolution of land plant gametophytes?

2009 Verelst, Wim; Münster, Thomas
Evolutionary Biology Plant Research
MIKC* MADS-box proteins constitute a regulatory network controlling important processes in pollen development of Arabidopsis thaliana. Comparative analysis of function, evolution, and systems biology of the MIKC* transcription factor family may allow a deeper understanding of land plant gametophytes. more

Plant breeding for climate change adaptation

2009 von Korff, Maria
Genetics Plant Research
Global change threatens agricultural production and represents a challenge for plant breeding research. Consequently, research focuses on elucidating the genetic regulation of adaptation to drought stress in crop plants. Barley is a good model for analysing genetic adaptation mechanisms, as it is characterized by tolerance to abiotic stress and a high genetic diversity. Understanding the genetic regulation of flowering time, for example, will allow the targeted manipulation of development during the breeding process and hence adaptation to changing environments. more

Rational design of enzymes with novel catalytic properties

2008 Kombrink, Erich
Genetics Plant Research Structural Biology
Plants synthesize a vast array of secondary compounds derived from phenylalanine, which fulfill defense functions against unfavorable environmental conditions. To understand the basis for this chemical diversity, the mechanism of substrate selection was unraveled for a key enzyme of phenylpropanoid metabolism. This knowledge may provide strategies of engineering natural product pathways aiming at targeted modifications of plant properties. more
Cultivated barley ranks number four among the world cereals. Barley emerged about 10000 years ago from wild barley species. At the institute, the genetic diversity among cultivated and wild barley varieties is studied with novel genome research tools. The new results are exploited, on one hand, to support modern plant breeding. On the other hand, the data assist in unravelling the molecular regulation of growth and development in crop plants. more

Activity-based proteomics on plant-pathogen interactions

2007 Kaschani, Farnusch; Van der Hoorn, Renier
Cell Biology Plant Research
The activities of enzyme classes in a living organism can be displayed by activity-based profiling. This technology is based on the use of tagged small molecules, which covalently bind to enzymes in an activity-dependent manner. The Plant Chemetics group is developing and applying this technology and other novel chemistry tools to reveal the dynamics of enzyme activities during plant-pathogen interactions. more

Architecture of flowering plants

2007 Theres, Klaus
Genetics Plant Research
The architecture of flowering plants shows an enormous heterogeneity. This variability is, to a large extent, caused by the different branching patterns of the vegetative and flowering shoots. Side-shoots originate from secondary meristems, which are formed in the axils of leaves. In tomato and in Arabidopsis, the gene LATERAL SUPPRESSOR (Ls/LAS) encodes a transcription factor controlling the initiation of axillary meristems during vegetative development. The gene is expressed in a narrow domain of the leaf axil and conditions the competence of the meristem founder cells. Transcription factors of the MYB class are also required for axillary meristem formation in specific zones along the shoot axis. Furthermore, plant architecture is strongly influenced by differential outgrowth of the axillary buds. Recently, it has been demonstrated that, in addition to the archetypical plant hormones auxin and cytokinin, bud outgrowth is regulated by a new root derived signal. more
Plant mutants that lack the so-called Mlo protein are highly resistant against powdery mildew fungi. It is assumed that the fungus exploits presence of this protein to suppress plant defense mechanisms. more

A novel function for glutaredoxins in flower development

2006 Zachgo, Sabine
Developmental Biology Plant Research
The roxy1 mutant from Arabidopsis thaliana initiates a reduced number of petal primordia and exhibits abnormalities during further petal development. The defects are restricted to the second whorl of the flower and independent of the organ identity. ROXY1 is predominantly expressed in tissues that give rise to new flower organs, including petal precursor cells and petal primordia. Glutaredoxins (GRXs) are small, ubiquitous oxidoreductases that have been intensively studied in E. coli, yeast and humans and oxidize or reduce conserved, cysteine containing motifs. They are involved in a large variety of cellular processes and exert a crucial function in the response to oxidative stress. Our data demonstrate that, unexpectedly, a plant glutaredoxin is involved in flower development, likely by mediating posttranslational modifications and thus affecting the activity of target proteins required for normal petal organ initiation and morphogenesis. Surprisingly, ROXY1 belongs to a novel subgroup, the CC-type, being specific for land plants. The existence of large CC-type subfamilies in angiosperms supports the assumption that their capability to posttranslationally modify target protein activity has been integrated into crucial plant specific processes coinciding with the development of complex flowers. Further analysis of ROXY1 and other CC-type members aims for an understanding of their biochemical properties, the identification of target proteins and unraveling the intriguing connection between redox regulation and flower development. more

Protein Modifiers: Versatile Regulators of Plant Development

2005 Bachmair, Andreas; Coupland, George
Developmental Biology Plant Research
Protein modifiers are small proteins that can be covalently attached to substrate proteins. The resulting change can influence the function of the substrate protein and can thereby play a role in cellular information transfer. Attachment of modifiers is part of many developmental processes in plants, including flower induction, which depends on an interplay between a genetic program and environmental input parameters for optimal timing and execution. more

Natural variation in higher plants – genes, mechanisms, evolution, plant breeding

2005 Koornneef, Maarten
Evolutionary Biology Genetics Plant Research
Our long-term goal is the understanding of the genetic differences between Arabidopsis accessions affecting important adaptive traits such as seed dormancy and plant growth. We expect that understanding this genetic variation will help explaining why specific variants are adapted to specific environments and that knowledge of the genetic basis of these traits will help breeding crop plants. more

Molecular diagnosis of complex traits in crop plants.

2004 Gebhardt, Christiane
Genetics Plant Research
Genetic variability and environmental factors determine the phenotype of the individuals of the same species. The possibilities to identify genetic variability at the DNA level, the availability of partial or even complete DNA sequence information of a multitude of organisms and the knowledge of gene function make it possible to explore the molecular basis of complex traits of humans, animals or plants. Knowledge on the molecular basis of complex traits of crop plants can contribute to the efficient selection of new varieties that are better adapted to human needs. In a pilot experiment, an association was found between field resistance of potato varieties to the late blight disease and DNA variants in a particular segment of the genome of potato (Solanum tuberosum).Christiane Gebhardt more

Flowering and Fertility: beyond the MADS-box genes

2004 Huijser, Peter
Developmental Biology Genetics Plant Research
Since their discovery in plants, over a decade ago, the study of MADS-box genes has made a major contribution to our current understanding of flower development at the level of organogenesis. Less well understood, however, remain the molecular genetic mechanisms involved in differentiation at the cellular level within these floral organs. In particular, how the cell lineages giving rise to the sex cells, in a process known as sporogenesis, become specified within the anthers and ovules is not well understood. As an unexpected outcome of our research on MADS-box genes, we uncovered a novel and plant specific family of transcription factors and found one of its members to control the process of sporogenesis. Its future analysis may contribute to a better understanding of sexual reproduction of plants. more
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