Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics

Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics

All living creatures on Earth carry their own blueprint in their genetic material, the DNA. Research at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics is dedicated to decoding the DNA of human beings and other organisms. The Institute's scientists study the function of genes and their role during development, from the fertilised egg to the embryo and on to the mature organism. They are particularly interested in genes that can trigger diseases when they malfunction. For a quick and precise analysis of the genetic material, the scientists rely on state-of-the-art sequencing devices, which can decode the entire genetic material of a human being within a few days. Special computer programs designed at the Institute help them to analyse and interpret the resulting data.


Ihnestrasse 63-73
14195 Berlin
Phone: +49 30 8413-0
Fax: +49 30 8413-1207

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):
IMPRS for Computational Biology and Scientific Computing

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

Scientists can predict in the lab whether a drug will be effective for individual colorectal tumours more
Scientists discover a new target for treating aggressive brain tumors more
New gene functions after genomic duplications
Researchers in Berlin describe how duplications of DNA segments affect the three dimensional structure of the genome more
DNA structure influences the function of transcription factors
Spatial arrangement of the binding site and neighbouring segments modulates gene activity more
“No authorization exists for such research”
The human geneticist Stefan Mundlos warns against intervention in the human germline made possible by the CRISPR/Cas ‘gene scissors’ more
Scientists publish the first RNA interactome of the human nucleus more
Detailed molecular analyses allow new insights into the function of tumour cells and new treatments more
Genetic diseases shift boundaries within the genome
Researchers in Berlin find that some rare diseases are caused by the destruction of functional boundaries within DNA more
Genetic analysis discovers new mutations on the X chromosome more
Researchers have developed a new method to reproduce large genomic rearrangements in mice more
Mapping of the canary genome

Mapping of the canary genome

February 04, 2015
Hormone sensitive gene regulation in seasonal singing birds more
Human genomes are extraordinarily individual - a challenge for personalised medicine more
PhenIX can identify genetic diseases quickly and reliably based on analyses of genes and symptoms more
Transcription factors: function follows form
Spatial structure determines transcription factor activity more
Mutated protein causes congenital joint contractures and intellectual disability more
Sequenced, yes – but decoded? We still don’t fully understand our human genetic make-up. The answer to many of its mysteries lies in the diploid nature of the genome, which contains two sets of chromosomes: one inherited from the father and one from the mother.
Nearly a quarter of all known illnesses are extremely rare and affect just a few thousand patients worldwide. Stefan Mundlos, a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, and his team specialize in the study of rare bone diseases. They are looking for the genes that trigger these disorders.
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From possibilities and necessities in epigenetics

2017 Kinkley, Sarah; Helmuth, Johannes; Chung, Ho-Ryun
Evolutionary Biology Genetics
Chromatin modifications provide information above the DNA sequence. The modifications correlate with transcriptional activity, constitute a memory of past decisions, and are thought to provide a state that enables future decisions. The direct measurement of a at the end conflicting combination of chromatin modifications revealed that this combination is not a reflection of molecular potential, as has been thought, but is required to dampen the mutation rate within important genes. Hence, chromatin modifications are key players keeping the DNA sequence in shape and thereby influence evolution. more

Our genome in 3D - how DNA-folding regulates our genes

2016 Mundlos, Stefan
Developmental Biology Genetics Medicine

The folding of chromatin is an inherent property of the genome to incorporate the DNA in the cell nucleus. Recent advances using chromosome conformation capture technologies have shown that the genome is folded in structured domains, so-called TADs.  Structural variations, as they often occur in human genetic disease, can interfere with TAD configuration and thus result in altered gene expression and consecutive disease. By re-engineering human aberrations in mice it was shown that TADs and their boundaries are an essential component when interpreting structural variations.


Molecular networks in genome and proteome analysis

2015 Stelzl, Ulrich
Genetics Medicine
Molecular networks are data-based descriptions of molecular interactions in a cell. Today, a wealth of physiologically relevant protein information is available, obtained from cells under different conditions, from different systems or disease states, including information on genetic variation, protein levels, and post-translational modification. Molecular networks are useful frameworks to distinguish causal from other molecular alterations that are only consequence or do not substantially contribute to the phenotype. This way, molecular networks are also increasingly important for medicine. more

Long non-coding RNAs as regulators of transcription in human

2014 Ørom, Ulf
Developmental Biology Genetics Medicine
The "Long non-coding RNAs" (ncRNAs) research group is focusing on the molecular mechanisms of long non-coding RNAs. In particular, the scientists are studying how these transcripts are involved in transcriptional regulation and long-range gene activating functions. The goal is a better understanding of fundamental processes underlying regulation of gene expression. The detailed understanding of the complex class of ncRNAs is limited, however, their importance for gene regulation and disease progression is obvious, following studies in both basic science as well as clinical research. more

Are there two classes of promoters?

2014 Vingron, Martin
Computer Science Developmental Biology Genetics Medicine

A mathematical analysis of human gene promoter sequences shows that these promoters fall into two distinct classes. A number of features correlate with these two classes, suggesting that this distinction is actually a reflection of different regulatory mechanisms. This article summarizes sequence features and biological properties specific for the promoters of the two classes. We explain how a mathematical analysis of whole-genome data could point towards particular biological mechanisms.


A truly selfish gene and its supporters

2013 Herrmann, Bernhard G.
Developmental Biology Genetics Medicine
At fertilisation, we get one set of chromosomes from each parent and, in general, pass on either the paternal or the maternal allele of each gene with equal frequency to our children. This has been taught by Mendel. According to Richard Dawkins’ hypothesis, however, there are selfish genes which are not content with random selection and thus actively promote their increased transmission to the next generation. Evidence for this assumption comes from a mouse gene that is transmitted at a frequency of up to 99% from males to their offspring. more

Novel systems biology research for a personalized medicine in cancer

2013 Nietfeld, Wilfried; Lehrach, Hans
Genetics Medicine
The solution of many medically important aspects depends on the prediction of the behaviour of complex networks, e.g. biological networks active within a tumor but also in other tissues of a patient under complex conditions, for example a particular therapy. So far, it is not possible to predict the success of a specific therapy for a specific patient. We are sequencing the genome of individual cancer patients as well as the genome and transcriptome of their tumor as a basis of a virtual-patient-model, used to predict effect and side effects of specific therapies on the individual patient. more

Better late than never: Genome research turns to rare diseases

2012 Ropers, Hans-Hilger
Genetics Medicine
For more than 15 years, genome research has looked for clinically relevant genetic risk factors for common diseases, with meagre results. Now rare disorders come into focus of genome research worldwide. Scientists at the Department of Human Molecular Genetics have successfully dealt with rare genetic disorders for many years. Since the introduction of novel, affordable sequencing techniques it has become possible, in principle, to elucidate the molecular causes of all single gene disorders, with far-reaching consequences for diagnosis, prevention and therapy. more

Nutrigenomics: natural modulation of gene expression

2012 Sauer, Sascha
Genetics Medicine
The scientific focus of the research group lies on the systematic analysis of the modulation of gene and protein expression. This process can be specifically influenced by the interaction of genes and natural products, which are e.g. derived from food. We analyse if and by which mechanisms natural products interfere with genes or gene products. The interdisciplinary approach comprises basic and applied research. The results can be useful for optimised application of natural products to improve various metabolic processes. more
Late onset neurodegenerative disorders are progressive disorders, which usually strike during mid-age of affected individuals and with age result in profound neuronal degeneration. Even though these diseases are quite common worldwide, the mechanisms responsible for their pathogenesis are, in most cases, poorly understood, and effective preventative therapies for these devastating disorders are currently not at hand. more
Systematic protein interaction studies are an important part of functional genomics research. A powerful method to decipher protein-protein interaction networks is the yeast two-hybrid system that allows studying the possible interaction of billions of protein pairs. Resulting interactions are represented in protein networks which provide a framework for a systems understanding of the molecular biology of the cell and contribute to medical practice, facilitating identification of human disease genes and an improved interpretation of patient samples and records. more

Give me five! Or six? Or seven?

2010 Kuss, Pia
Developmental Biology Genetics Medicine
Give me five, high five, hello and good bye - all shown to others with one hand. Certainly everyone knows that this hand comprises five digits. But not everyone is born with exactly five digits. In humans, occasionally hereditary skeletal limb malformations do occur. One malformation, the so-called synpolydactyly, implies that patients are born with additional digits, and those are fused above all. This phenotype develops due to a mutation within the Hoxd13 gene, leading to a lack of retinoic acid and thereby causing uncontrolled cartilage production at wrong sites in the extremity. more
The huge amount of DNA sequence data derived from a multitude of species, which is at our disposal today, allows comparative studies of genome evolution. Such studies afford to trace back the evolution of genomic DNA sequences and to single out and study the processes that play an important role in changing and shaping the genomes of mammals. The interaction of these processes with other cellular operations is now being investigated and better understood. more

Computational modelling of biological processes

2009 Wierling, Christoph; Herwig, Ralf
Cell Biology Computer Science Mathematics Medicine
The development of computational models for biological processes opens the possibility to predict new effects of virtual targeted perturbations that can in turn be validated by experimental observations. Such predictions are highly relevant for many practical applications, for example the development of new drugs. Through the last years, the Bioinformatics group has been developing different tools, methods, and databases that support the computational modeling of biological processes, such as the pathway integration database ConsensusPathDB and the modeling system PyBioS. more

Regulatory networks of trunk formation in mammals

2008 Herrmann, Bernhard G.
Developmental Biology Genetics
Mesoderm formation is an important process of embryonic development. It plays an essential role in trunk formation and organ development in mammals. It is controlled by several interacting signalling pathways, which also play an important role in tumour progression. Novel methods are utilized for deciphering the complex regulatory networks comprising thousands of gene products, which control mesoderm formation in the embryo and in tumours. more

Interaction networks in protein structures

2008 Lappe, Michael
Structural Biology
The central topic of the Bioinformatics / Structural Proteomics group is the analysis and prediction of protein structures via networks. Methods are developed to reconstruct the 3D structure from such networks with the aim to identify the determining contacts in these structure networks. This interdisciplinary work provides potential application in protein and drug design. more
Molecular approaches reveal components and mechanisms of cellular stress sensing and adaptation. In addition, mathematical modeling has proven to foster the understanding of some basic principles of signal transduction and signal processing as well as of sensitivity and robustness of information perception and cellular response. Main modeling principles are exemplified here for a model organism, the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. more
After the finalization of the human genome project, investigations into the transcriptome, proteome, and metabolome have been largely increased, since their concurrence determines the functionality of genes. In this context, recent mechanistic discoveries have induced a kind of “paradigm shift” regarding the mode of action of hormones and widened our understanding of these compounds in cell and gene regulation, particularly when involved in human diseases. more

Molecular mechanisms of skeletal development

2006 Mundlos, Stefan
Developmental Biology Medicine
The research group Development & Disease focuses on the molecular basis by which form and structure of the skeleton are regulated during vertebrate development. Our approach combines research on human genetic disorders with gene function analysis in vitro and in animal models. The studies are carried out in close collaboration with the Institute of Medical Genetics at the Charité, Berlin. Recent advances in the identification and functional analysis of human gene mutations have provided new insights into the biology and pathology of limb malformations and, in particular, in the mechanisms of joint formation. Genetic screens have identified a large number of novel genes that are currently investigated for their role in normal bone development, in disease, and during the regeneration of bone and cartilage. more

Ribosomes, the cellular production plants of proteins, loose their secrets

2006 Fucini, Paola; Nierhaus, Knud H.
Cell Biology Structural Biology
Ribosomes translate the genetic DNA information into the amino-acid sequence of proteins and are one of the most complicated structures of the cell. High resolution methods such as X-ray analysis and cryo-electron microscopy as well as improved functional methods have led to a quantum leap in our understanding of the mechanisms of the ribosome by deducing functionality from structure. more

From genetic information to the treatment of diseases

2005 Lehrach, Hans
Evolutionary Biology Genetics Medicine
Thanks to the sequencing of the human genome, we have access to detailed and extensive information about the complexity of biological processes. The comparison of the human genome with the chimpanzee genome leeds to a better understanding of molecular processes. This will set up a basis for the advancement of new medical diagnostics and treatments. more
Transcription factors play a central role for the regulation of genes. The Department of Computational Biology at the MPI for Molecular Genetics utilizes a panel of mathematical methods to analyze function and interaction of transcription factors in order to achieve new insights into gene regulation. more

Molecular basis of hereditary cognitive disorders

2004 Ropers, Hans-Hilger
Cognitive Science Genetics Medicine
Mental retardation is the biggest unsolved problem of Medical Genetics and a major burden for Health Care. Most severe forms of mental retardation are due to chromosome aberrations and gene defects, but so far, only a small proportion of these defects is known. For the mapping and identification of the relevant genetic factors we employ four different complementary strategies: i. investigation of patients with balanced chromosome rearrangements; ii. development and application of methods for high-resolution detection of unbalanced changes in the DNA; iii. systematic search for mutations in families with X-linked mental retardation; and iv. mapping of autosomal recessive gene defects by identifying homozygous genome segments in children of consanguineous parents. During recent years we have already identified numerous molecular causes of cognitive disorders. The characterization of these genes promises major progress for the diagnosis and prevention of mental retardation as well as new insights into normal and disturbed brain development and function. more

Regulatory networks during embryogenesis of vertebrates

2004 Herrmann, Bernhard G.
Developmental Biology
The development of the body anlage with its organs is controlled by a multitude of complex regulatory mechanisms which follow a strict order. On top of these processes is the formation of mesenchyme, an event with similarities to metastasis formation of tumors. Novel methods are utilized to unravel regulatory networks controlling mesenchyme formation and tissue differentiation. more
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