Max Planck Institute for Biology Tübingen

Max Planck Institute for Biology Tübingen

All living organisms change – during the course of their lifetimes and across generations. The Max Planck Institute for Biology (name changed at the end of 2021 from Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology) is concerned with the development and evolution of animals and plants. The Institute’s scientists study how a fully functioning organism develops from a fertilised egg cell, and which genes are involved. They also analyse the role of these developmental processes in the emergence of new species, and examine the evolution of proteins. In a bid to find answers to their questions, the scientists work with model organisms, such as the zebra fish, fruit fly, threadworm and thale cress, a relative of the cabbage family. It has been shown that genes which influence development work in a similar way in different organisms – be they flies or people, thale cress or rice.


Max-Planck-Ring 5
72076 Tübingen
Phone: +49 7071 601-321
Fax: +49 7071 601-300

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):

IMPRS "From Molecules to Organisms"

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

Novel framework speeds up energy calculations in protein design


Tug-of-war between selfish gene and cellular clean-up mechanism generates genetic diversity


Mechanisms of rapid evolutionary adaptation in blackgrass deciphered

Cryo-em images of a flagellum filament by Michael Bell (second author)

New insight into how harmless gut bacteria avoid triggering inflammation

Heavy infestation by waterhemp strongly reduces corn growth (right rows) compared to corn plants that do not have to compete with waterhemp (left rows)

How intensive agriculture turned a wild plant into a pervasive weed

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Bacteria are almost everywhere. We encounter them as pathogens or causative agents of infections. But they are our indispensable helpers. For example, without intestinal bacteria we would not be able to digest our food so effectively. A diverse microbial community – known as the microbiome – has co-existed with humans for hundreds of thousands of years. Ruth Ley and her team at the Max Planck Institute for Biology, Tuebingen are researching how microbes have influenced human evolution.

Parasites exist not only in the plant and animal kingdoms, they are also a part of us. Our genome contains myriad short stretches of DNA that propagate at the genome’s expense. For this reason, these transposons, as they are called, are also referred to as parasitic DNA. Oliver Weichenrieder from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen wants to shed light on the processes by which transposons are copied – not only because they can cause disease, but also because they may be an important engine of evolution.

Admittedly, the research subject isn’t particularly appetizing: Strongyloides stercoralis – small parasitic worms that live in their host’s intestines and have the potential to cause severe problems. Nevertheless, Adrian Streit from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen is fascinated by this threadworm. It has a unique life cycle, and to this day, no one really understands why.

The human body is home to countless microbes. The intestinal tract, in particular, is colonized by innumerable bacteria. As a young environmental microbiologist, Ruth Ley never imagined that she would one day find herself interested in the human gut and the microbiota that reside in it. Today she conducts research at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, investigating the role the countless intestinal bacteria play in our health.

Climate change is radically altering the Earth’s plant and animal life. This is due not only to the rise in mean temperatures throughout the world, but also to the changes in temperature variability between both day and night, and summer and winter. George Wang, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, analyzes climate data with a view to researching the influence of the altered conditions on flora and fauna.

The Roundworm? What Teeth!

Biology & Medicine

Worms, beetles and a small island in the middle of the ocean. For developmental geneticist and evolutionary biologist Ralf Sommer from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, roundworms and beetles are the actors and the island of La Réunion the stage on which a great drama unfolds: an educational piece about evolution, the diversity of nature, and how it emerges.

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Plant pathogen moonlighting as an insect mutualist

2022 Salem, Hassan

Ecology Evolutionary Biology Microbiology

Symbioses with microbes span a gradient of interaction outcomes across the mutualism-to-parasitism continuum. But how stable are these designations? Are mutualists beneficial under all conditions? And are parasites destined to always harm their hosts?


From lab to nature: worms, beetles and a tropical island in the indian ocean

2021 Sommer, Ralf J.

Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics

Many biological processes are studied in great detail in laboratory settings. However, their ecological relevance and significance is often hard to study because the way back from the lab to nature is difficult. My team and I study how nematodes compete for short-lived resources at scarab beetle carcasses. This work is carried out on small tropical island in the Indian Ocean with unique conditions. This work allows laboratory findings to be tested in “real life”, providing strong evidence for the importance of developmental plasticity and the organisms’ response to fluctuating environments.


Tiny intron prediction and the current limits of machine learning

2020 Swart, Estienne Carl

Evolutionary Biology Genetics

Though we are in the era of thousand genome projects, the genes predicted within these genomes still leave much to be desired. In particular, some of the simplifying assumptions result in errors as soon as the peculiarities of molecular biology come into play. Thus, there is a continued need to improve the machine learning and other algorithms used in gene prediction. In the course of assembling and annotating new genomes, we developed a program, Intronarrator, to overcome the gene prediction inaccuracy due to tiny introns by direct intron predictions from deep RNA sequencing.


The private life of brown algae: illuminating the origins and evolution of multicellular sexual development

2020 Coelho, Susana

Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics

Brown algae are multicellular eukaryotes that have been evolving independently from animals and plants for more than a billion years. Brown algae have invented a fascinating diversity of body patterns and reproductive characteristics, whose molecular basis remains totally unexplored. We are using the richness of morphological and sexual features of these enigmatic organisms to shed light into the origin of multicellularity and the evolution of sex determination across the eukaryotic tree of life.


Evolutionary steps towards complex proteolytic machineries

2019 Martin, Jörg; Lupas, Andrei N.

Cell Biology Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Structural Biology

Controlled protein degradation plays a crucial role for the correct progression of cell cycle, signal transduction, gene expression or programmed cell death. In eukaryotes, organisms with a nucleus, a complex machinery of enzymes handles this highly regulated process. Recently, the existence of related enzyme systems has also been found in prokaryotes, organisms without a nucleus. The analysis of these nanomachines provides insight into the evolution of cellular protein degradation and the origin of the eukaryotic degradation machinery.

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