Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology

Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology

All living organisms change – during the course of their lifetimes and across generations. The 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 601-350
Fax: +49 7071 601-300

PhD opportunities

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

IMPRS "From Molecules to Organisms"

All other PhD students are supported by the International PhD Program for the Biological Sciences. To apply, please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute directly.

A sequence search engine for a new era of conservation genomics


A biosensor visualizes redistribution dynamics of the plant hormone auxin in living cells


Award honors groundbreaking work on mechanisms that underlie the formation of neural circuits


Scientific highlights 2019

December 20, 2019

Many publications by Max Planck scientists in 2019 were of great social relevance or met with a great media response. We have selected 15 articles to present you with an overview of some noteworthy research of the year.


Only a few individuals of plants species are prepared for increasing droughts


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.

The ragworm is an unusual laboratory animal. However, for Gáspár Jékely of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, this marine inhabitant has all the qualities of a perfect model organism: the larvae possess the simplest eyes in the world and later develop a simple nervous system made up of just a few hundred cells. This means that the scientist can track how sensory stimuli trigger behavioral changes.

Group Leader Position | Algal Biology

Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen April 29, 2021

Bioinformatician / Scientific Software Engineer (m/f/d)

Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen March 30, 2021

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.


The long-term effects of the Neolithic transition to agriculture on our microbiomes

2018 Ley, Ruth E.

Cell Biology Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Plant Research Structural Biology

The transition to a sedentary lifestyle with agriculture and livestock breeding during the Neolithic left genetic traces. Scientists at the Department of Microbiome Science have found that differences between people at the level of genes involved in starch and milk metabolism play an important role in the composition of the microbiome in the intestine. The recent adaptation of humans to new eating habits has led to genetic variations which are still reflected today in differences in modern microbiomes.


Predicting adaptability of wild plants to global change

2017 Weigel, Detlef

Cell Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Plant Research

How do wild species respond to the climate change we currently experience? Scientists from the institute have discovered that the ability to adapt to extreme climate events is not uniformly distributed even within a single wild plant species. Hence, predictions of the future distribution of species are only meaningful if differences both between and within species are taken into account.


Phenotypic plasticity – how genes and the environment interact

2016 Sommer, Ralf J.; Loschko, Tobias; Riebesell, Metta; Röseler, Waltraud; Witte, Hanh

Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology

Organisms are responsive to environmental variation. However, little is known on how genetic regulation of development is linked to environmental changes. Phenotypic plasticity, the property of a single genotype to produce distinct phenotypes dependent on the environmental conditions, provides a unique opportunity to study organismal-environmental interactions. The nematode Pristionchus pacificus is a new model for studying phenotypic plasticity. P. pacificus forms two distinct mouth-forms and is accessible to an unbiased studying of phenotypic plasticity.


Connectomics in a marine larva: small but mighty

2016 Jékely, Gáspár

Developmental Biology

Connectomes are wiring diagrams of neural networks showing the specific connections between neurons. The research group Neurobiology of marine zooplankton is working on the complete wiring diagram of a small marine larva to understand how neuronal circuits mediate behaviour.

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