Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics

Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics

How do cells form tissues? How do tissues form organisms? Cell and developmental biologists at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden devote their research to discovering how cell division and cell differentiation work, which structures can be found in cell organelles and how cells exchange information and materials. Physical processes play an important role here; processes which, for instance, influence the movement of molecular motors, such as actin and myosin. Model organisms like the fruit fly, zebrafish, roundworm or mouse help the 25 research groups to find answers to the very basic questions of life. Often, this research includes investigating diseases like diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's Disease or retinal degeneration.


Pfotenhauerstr. 108
01307 Dresden
Phone: +49 351 210-0
Fax: +49 351 210-2000

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):
IMPRS for Cell, Developmental and Systems Biology

Doctoral candidates are only accepted through the IMPRS-CellDevoSys selection procedure, which is conducted once a year.

Source of life

Source of life

News May 22, 2017
Eugene W. Myers never attended a biology course. Despite this fact, he has made a career for himself in this field, and in developing a computer program, made a major contribution to decoding the human genome. He recently was appointed as Director at the the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, and the Klaus-Tschira Chair of the Systems Biology Center in Dresden. more
Virtual liver model could reduce number of animal experiments
Researchers establish a model that simulates biliary fluid dynamics in the liver and predicts drug-induced liver injuries more
A tiny change with considerable consequences
A single nucleotide substitution likely contributed to the evolutionary expansion of the human neocortex more
Robert Koch Gold Medal 2016 to Kai Simons
Kai Simons, founding director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) and managing director of Lipotype GmbH, receives the Robert Koch Medal in Gold for his lifetime achievements, in particular for his characterization of membrane-forming lipids and the development of the lipid raft concept. more
The self-driving microscope
Researchers develop a combination of software and hardware for adaptive live imaging of large living organisms more
Stem cells in the developing human brain take more time to arrange the chromosomes before distribution than stem cells of great apes more
Survival through a biochemical shortcut
Researchers unravel the metabolic basis that allows worms and yeast to survive extreme desiccation more
Cells in standby mode

Cells in standby mode

News March 22, 2016
During unfavourable conditions the cytoplasm can solidify and protect the cell from death more
Switching mouse neural stem cells to a primate-like behaviour
How mimicking the human expression of a single gene can increase neurogenesis in the developing mouse neocortex. more
A gene for brain size - only found in humans
Following the traces of evolution: Max Planck Researchers find a key to the reproduction of brain stem cells more
Mitosis – the cell nucleus is moving upwards
During cell division, cell nuclei have to be positioned at the upper end, so that daughter cells can be built into retina tissue more
Brain folding

Brain folding

News November 25, 2014
Programmes that control the production of neurons during brain development determine how the brain folds more
Fat feedback

Fat feedback

News October 24, 2014
Lipids, not calories, trigger a strong Insulin response more
Potential basis for the treatment and prevention of Parkinson’s disease
Max Planck researchers show that two products of the gene DJ-1 can increase the survival of neurons more
Unbreak my heart

Unbreak my heart

News July 22, 2014
Max Planck scientists image a beating heart in 3D more
Artists and architects of all eras have been inspired by symmetry in nature. This is hardly surprising, as symmetry is considered the epitome of beauty – and mirror symmetry is the absolute gold standard. Jochen Rink from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden is seeking to discover how organisms define the mirror plane and thereby fulfill the basic prerequisite for a symmetrical body structure. To do this he studies flatworms and their astonishing ability to regenerate missing body parts.
Many biomolecules move through cells like microscopic machines. Often, however, it isn’t known what forces these molecules generate or how fast the molecules act or move. That’s why Stephan Grill from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden decided to specialize in measuring molecular forces. He uses optical tweezers to pull gently on DNA strands. His method is shedding light on the proteins that read genetic information.

The Source Code of Life

MPR 1/2013 Biology & Medicine
Eugene W. Myers never attended a biology lecture. Nevertheless, he made a career for himself in this field, and by developing a computer program, made a major contribution to decoding the human genome. The bioinformatician has recently become a Director at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics and at the Center for Systems Biology in Dresden.
No job offers available

Molecular trains on different tracks

2017 Pigino, Gaia
Cell Biology Structural Biology
The cilium, an antenna-like structure in the cell, undergoes rapid assembly and disassembly. This is enabled by a bidirectional train-like transport system called intraflagellar transport (IFT). In healthy cells, IFT happens collision free and without traffic jams, but if IFT fails, various human pathologies arise. Recent findings show how the cell prevents collisions by placing trains going in opposite directions on different rails. more

Cells in stand-by mode - How cells escape starvation by solidifying

2017 Alberti, Simon; Munder, Matthias Christoph
Cell Biology
When cells do not get enough nutrients, their energy level drops. This leads to a decrease of the pH value of the liquid interior of the cell, the cytoplasm – the cells acidify. In response, the cells enter into a kind of stand-by mode, enabling them to survive. How cells switch on and off this stand-by mode is unknown. The Max-Planck researchers might have found the answer: The cytoplasm of the seemingly dead cells changes its consistency from liquid to solid, thereby protecting the sensitive structures in the cellular interior. more

Defective cell division: How the cell compensates for mistakes

2016 Norden, Caren; Dzafic, Edo; Strzyz, Paulina J.
Cell Biology Developmental Biology
During cell division in animal cells, mistakes can occur, which can have serious consequences for a developing organ and organism. For example, if the nuclei of retinal progenitor cells do not move upwards in the cell before undergoing division, the two daughter cells cannot reintegrate into the tissue. Also, when parts of the centrosome – the regulator of cell division – are erroneously duplicated, abnormalities of cell division can occur. The research lab of Caren Norden wants to understand how cell biology drives morphogenesis. more

A gene for bigger brains

2016 Huttner, Wieland
Evolutionary Biology Neurosciences
The gene ARHGAP11B is only found in humans. This gene causes basal brain stem cells to form a bigger pool. In that way, more neurons can be produced during brain development, and the cerebral cortex can expand – this expansion enables higher cognitive functions like thinking and language. Likewise, a sustained expression of the transcription factor Pax6 in basal brain stem cells is crucial for them to proliferate and to produce more neurons. This can be mimicked in mouse cortical stem cells: Their behavior switches to that of primate stem cells, resulting in the generation of more neurons. more
Biological systems are incredibly complex. Understanding the movements of a flock of birds or how the cytoskeleton changes its shape will never be possible by only observing these processes. Until recently, researchers could not understand these mechanisms as they simply lacked methods to investigate complex systems. With their simulation of active matter, Ivo Sbalzarini and his team of researchers are now able to simulate and thus, investigate these complex systems. This breakthrough in systems biology is a major goal on the way to a completely simulated model organism. more

Modern Microscopy: Understanding the system as a whole

2015 Myers, Eugene W.; Jug, Florian
Cell Biology Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Neurosciences Structural Biology
The research group around Eugene W. Myers is a technology group, which focuses on analyzing and extracting information from images obtained by various forms of microscopy, as well as developing microscopes and software in order to make observations of in situ and in vivo systems. The researchers believe that these microscopes, developed by the group, and the data they produce will reveal more about the function of the entities encoded in the genome than any other approach. more

Forever young: How a microbe prevents ageing

2014 Tolic-Nørrelykke, Iva
Cell Biology

While ageing remains an inevitable fact of life, Max Planck researchers in Dresden discovered a microbe that stays forever young under favorable growth conditions by rejuvenating every time it reproduces. They looked at pedigree trees of yeast cells over several generations. The findings provide fundamental insights into the mechanisms of ageing and can also help to better understand cells that exhibit replicative immortality – like cancer cells.


Molecular bodyguards of fertility

2014 Gracida, Xicotencatl; Eckmann, Christian R.
Cell Biology

Animal populations thrive in environments with abundant food resources. While the link between population growth and food abundance is well established, much less is known about the influence of diet quality on fertility. This publication provides novel insights in this long-standing question by establishing a molecular link between dietary impact and the development of germ cells that are essential for reproduction. Moreover, the study identifies a nuclear receptor in the gut that protects germ cells against environmental influences and metabolites.


The forces driving tissue movement - Epiboly in zebrafish embryos

2013 Grill, Stephan
Cell Biology Developmental Biology
During gastrulation in zebrafish, the enveloping cell layer (EVL) spreads over the yolk cell – almost like a woolen hat that you pull over your head. This movement is driven by a contractile ring of the proteins actin and myosin – so far, the ring was thought to function by circumferential contraction only, like a simple purse-string. Max Planck researchers now showed that the movement is instead driven by a flow-friction mechanism. This mechanism generates a pulling force through resistance against retrograde actomyosin flow – the actomyosin ring contracts also along its width. more
Since cell shape is ultimately defined by cellular mechanical properties and by the cell’s physical interactions with its environment, biophysical approaches are essential to understand cell shape control. Biologists, bio-informaticians and physicists investigate the molecular regulation of cellular mechanical properties, and the contribution of these properties to cell morphogenesis. more

Evo-Devo and the greatest similarities - The hourglass model of embryogenesis

2012 Tomancak, Pavel
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics
In the middle of their development, the embryos of different species show maximal similarity – embryogenesis diverges more extensively prior and after that phase, known as the hourglass model. Also the expression patterns of the genes involved show greatest similarities between embryos during the phylotypic stage. The genes that conform most to the hourglass pattern are involved in key developmental processes. These results give an insight into the molecular basis of the hourglass pattern and indicate that natural selection acts to conserve patterns of gene expression during mid-embryogenesis. more

Cutting-edge microscopy cutting with light - SPIM

2012 Huisken, Jan
Cell Biology Developmental Biology
Light sheet microscopy has contributed substantially to the emerging field of real-time developmental biology. Advantages of new systems are low photo-toxicity and high-speed multiview acquisition, which make them a popular choice for studies of organ morphogenesis in model organisms. A variety of light sheet microscopes have emerged for the noninvasive imaging of specimens ranging from single molecules to cells, tissues, and entire embryos. This enables researchers to watch developmental events occur in real time in an entire embryo, and to understand how cells form tissues and organs. more

Cajal Bodies and their role in embryogenesis and RNA-Processing

2011 Neugebauer, Karla; Oates, Andy
Cell Biology Genetics
Cajal Bodies (CBs) are evolutionarily conserved subnuclear compartments that contain components of the RNA processing machinery. Their function has remained mysterious. Eucaryotic cells have a nucleus that exhibits various “bodies” without a membrane, including the CBs. The groups of Karla Neugebauer and Andy Oates provide evidence that CBs increase the rate of biogenesis of snRNPs, macromolecular complexes required for gene expression. This indicates that CBs increase rates of macromolecular assembly and thereby promote cell growth, proliferation and the execution of genetic programs. more

Biomolecular Motors in Nanotechnology

2010 Diez, Stefan
Cell Biology Complex Systems
Biomolecular motors are mechano-enzymes capable of converting chemical energy into directed motion. Recent advances in the biophysical understanding of these motors have raised the possibility that they might find applications as nanomachines in synthetic environments. For example, they could be used as molecule-sized robots that build up and manipulate nanostructures, detect chemicals or sort molecular reagents. more
The research group of Wolfgang Zachariae shows that in yeast, the Dbf4-dependent Cdc7 kinase (DDK) provides a link between premeiotic S phase and the segregation of homologous chromosomes in meiosis I. Independently from its established role in initiating DNA replication, DDK promotes double-strand break formation, the first step of recombination, and the recruitment of the monopolin complex to kinetochores, which is essential for monopolar attachment of sister kinetochores. Thus, activation of DDK both initiates DNA replication and commits meiotic cells to reductional chromosome segregation in meiosis I. more
In the developing embryo of the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster the protein Stardust forms a complex with the proteins Crumbs and DPATJ, which is required to maintain epithelial polarity and integrity. In addition, mutations in these genes impair morphogenesis of photoreceptor cells and result in light-dependent retinal degeneration – the flies get blind. The group of Elisabeth Knust has shown that the gene stardust is a genetically complex locus, which encodes several proteins, which may exert different functions. Some of these proteins are only expressed in the embryo, while others can be found only in the eye. These results suggest that Stardust-based protein scaffolds are dynamic, which is not only mediated by multiple interaction partners, but in addition by various forms of the Stardust protein itself. These results have further implications. All proteins of the complex are conserved in human and are expressed in the photoreceptor cells. Loss of CRB1, the homologue of the Drosophila crumbs gene, results in blindness of the affected people. more
Exocytosis uses a transport system that releases vesicles (exosomes) to the extracellular milieu. This transport system has just been found recently. Moreover, cell-to-cell communication, or lipid sorting, seems to depend on dynamic lipid rafts. These sophisticated mechanisms are crucial for the functioning of complex cells. However, exosomes are emerging as Trojan horse in pathogenesis; HIV uses the exosome pathway for its assembly and release; viruses in general seem to make use of lipid rafts to spread from cell to cell. more

Genome-wide Screens as a systematic approach to study key mechanisms in biology

2006 Buchholz, Frank; Kittler, Ralf; Putz, Gabriele; Pelletier, Laurence; Poser, Ina; Heninger, Anne-Kristin; Drechsel, David; Fischer, Steffi; Konstantinova, Irena; Habermann, Bianca; Grabner, Hannes; Yaspo, Marie-Laure; Himmelbauer, Heinz; Korn, Bernd; Neugebauer, Karla; Pisabarro, Maria Teresa
Genom-wide screens are a major and significant part in modern biology. They provide a perfect tool to study the function of various genes with clinical relevance and in key mechanisms in the cell. The Max Planck Institute for molecular cell biology and genetics (MPI-CBG) has built up a Screening Facility that serves as a European screening resource for the research community. An esiRNA screen in human cells performed by the research group of Frank Buchholz has identified genes essential for cell division. Results like that have major clinical relevance, and a medical implication especially for cancer research, since malfunctions of the mechanisms underlying cell division are the cause for cancer. The MPI-CBG has found the right partners to build up this screening project – Dr. Ivan Baines, Director of Services and Facilities at the MPI-CBG, brought together expertise from the industry and excellent basic research to form a new model that is well-equipped to find answers to the very complex questions in modern biology. more

Lipoprotein particles act as vehicles for the Morphogenes Wingless and Hedgehog

2005 Panáková, Daniela; Sprong, Hein; Marois, Eric; Thiele, Christoph; Eaton, Suzanne
Cell Biology Developmental Biology
When substances are produced in one cell, yet required in another, they have to travel long distances in a tissue. So far, common science has not been able to adequately explain this process. Now, MPI-CBG researchers of the groups of Suzanne Eaton and Christoph Thiele have discovered so-called argosomes: Like trucks, they are able to pick up proteins and transport them from one cell to the other within a tissue. Wnt and Hedgehog family proteins are secreted signalling molecules (morphogens) that act at both long and short range to control growth and patterning during development. Both proteins are covalently modified by lipid, and the mechanism by which such hydrophobic molecules might spread over long distances is unknown. The Dresden labs could show that Wingless, Hedgehog and gpi-linked proteins copurify with lipoprotein particles, and co-localize with them in the developing wing epithelium of Drosophila. In larvae with reduced lipoprotein levels, Hedgehog accumulates near its site of production, and fails to signal over its normal range. Similarly, the range of Wingless signalling is narrowed. Thus, a novel function for lipoprotein particles has been characterised: they act as vehicles for the movement of lipid-linked morphogens and gpi-linked proteins. more

The role of APPL and Rab5 in signalling

2004 Zerial, Marino; Miaczynska, Marta; Christoforidis, Savvas; Giner, Angelika; Shevchenko, Anna; Uttenweiler-Joseph, Sandrine; Habermann, Bianca; Wilm, Matthias; Parton, Robert G.
Cell Biology
Signals generated in response to extracellular stimuli at the plasma membrane are transmitted through cytoplasmic transduction cascades to the nucleus. The group of Marino Zerial reports the identification of a pathway directly linking the small GTPase Rab5, a key regulator of endocytosis, to signal transduction and mitogenesis. This pathway operates via APPL1 and APPL2, two Rab5 effectors, which reside on a subpopulation of endosomes. In response to extracellular stimuli such as EGF and oxidative stress, APPL1 translocates from the membranes to the nucleus where it interacts with the nucleosome remodeling and histone deacetylase multiprotein complex NuRD/MeCP1, an established regulator of chromatin structure and gene expression. Both APPL1 and APPL2 are essential for cell proliferation and their function requires Rab5 binding. The recent findings identify an endosomal compartment bearing Rab5 and APPL proteins as an intermediate in signalling between the plasma membrane and the nucleus. more

The division of neuroepithelial cells in the mammalian brain

2004 Huttner, Wieland; Haubensak, Wulf; Attardo, Alessio
Developmental Biology Neurosciences
Neurons of the mammalian Central Nervous System are thought to originate from progenitors dividing at the apical surface of the neuroepithelium. The research group of Wieland Huttner uses mouse embryos expressing GFP from a gene expressed throughout the neural tube in most, if not all, neuron-generating progenitors, to specifically reveal the cell divisions that produce CNS neurons. In addition to the apical, asymmetric divisions of neuroepithelial (NE) cells that generate another NE cell and a neuron, they found, from the onset of neurogenesis, a second population of progenitors that divide in the basal region of the neuroepithelium and generate two neurons. Basal progenitors are most frequent in the telencephalon, where they outnumber the apically dividing neuron-generating NE cells. These observations reconcile previous data on the origin and lineage of CNS neurons and show that basal, rather than apical, progenitors are the major source of the neurons of the mammalian neocortex. more
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