Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology

Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology

Infectious diseases claim millions of human lives every year, especially in developing countries, and represent one of the most common causes of death in the world. They are caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites. Pandemics and hospital infections are feared in the more affluent nations. Added to this is the fact that the significance of infectious agents in diseases of the cardiovascular system, autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders and cancer is still frequently underestimated. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology are concerned with the impact of pathogens on the organism. Their work focuses on the causes of malaria, tuberculosis, serious gastro-intestinal diseases (such as stomach cancer) and influenza. In addition to the pure acquisition of knowledge, the scientists also focus on the development of innovative vaccines and drugs.


Charitéplatz 1
10117 Berlin
Phone: +49 30 28460-0
Fax: +49 30 28460-111

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):
IMPRS for Infectious Diseases and Immunology

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

Test determines risk of tuberculosis
In future, a blood test could identify which individuals with latent TB infection are at high risk of developing the disease more
Candidate tuberculosis vaccine in phase II/III trial
VPM1002 is being trailed for efficacy and safety in patients with recurrent tuberculosis and in HIV-exposed newborns more
Helicobacter creates immune system blind spot
By extracting cholesterol from host cell membranes, Helicobacter pylori generates “micro-islands” more
Sugar molecule helps stomach cells to differentiate between good and bad bugs
Max Planck scientists discover novel innate surveillance mechanism to fight off pathogenic Helicobacter strains more
<p>Are stem cells the link between bacteria and cancer?</p>
New mechanism of stomach gland regeneration reveals impact of Helicobacter pylori infection more
Emmanuelle Charpentier
For Emmanuelle Charpentier, deciphering the functioning of an enzyme previously known only to experts was a life-changing moment more
An old new weapon against emerging Chikungunya virus
Researchers utilize existing drugs to interfere with host factors required for replication of Chikungunya virus more
Scientists delineate molecular details of a new bacterial CRISPR-Cpf1 system and open possible avenue for alternative gene editing uses like targeting several genes in parallel more
Blood test for tuberculosis
Biomarkers may be able to predict the risk of developing tuberculosis in future more
Possible breakthrough in tuberculosis research on the horizon
More than a century after the announcement of an alleged miracle cure against the disease, patients can now hope for new diagnostics and treatment approaches. more
The genome editor

The genome editor

March 01, 2016
On March 1, the Leibniz Prizes are awarded in Berlin. Alongside two other Max Planck scientists, microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin, is being presented with the highest scientific award in Germany. more
Fallopian tubes grown in a Petri dish

Max Planck researchers have cultivated the mucosa of human fallopian tubes from stem cells


High Honours

December 15, 2015
Three Max Planck scientists will be awarded the German Research Foundation's (DFG) Leibniz Prize this year. more
Infectiously fertile

Infectiously fertile

September 22, 2015
A gene that makes male mosquitoes more fertile could also increase malaria transmission more

Sometimes a single discovery can change a whole life. For Emmanuelle Charpentier, deciphering the functioning of an enzyme previously known only to experts was such a moment. The trio comprised of one enzyme and two RNA molecules and known as CRISPR-Cas9 made headlines far beyond the world of science. Since then, a lot of things have changed in the French woman’s life. She became a Director at the Berlin-based Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in early October 2015.

At the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, the focus is on such unpleasant companions as chlamydia, HIV and tubercle bacilli. Stefan H. E. Kaufmann, as Founding Director, helped establish it 20 years ago. Since then, the scientist has been researching the strengths and weaknesses of the tubercle bacillus. Modern tuberculosis research would be inconceivable without him – and he without it.
White blood cells that cast net-like structures to ensnare pathogens recently gave scientists quite a surprise. Now the first patients are reaping the benefits of this discovery.
The bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis uses a trick to ensure its survival within its host cell. There, it exploits the cell’s distribution center.
Postdoctoral position in Bioinformatics/Biology
Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin April 23, 2018
Project Leader (Microbial RNA Biology)
Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin April 05, 2018
Project Leader (CRISPR Biology)
Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin April 04, 2018
Project Leader (CRISPR Genome Engineering and Applications in Infection Biology)
Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin April 03, 2018

Fountains of youth of the immune system

2017 Melchers, Fritz
Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine

For life, hematopoietic stem cells are springs of all new cells of the immune system. We have studied the embryonic origins of these stem cells, their migration from blood into fetal liver, their residence in bone marrow, their capacities to save energy and rest or to become active and differentiate into all types of mature cells of the immune system. Surprisingly, stem cells offer a home for quiescent, latent forms of tuberculosis bacteria. Thus, they may be a continuous danger for an eruption of active tuberculosis but may also be a source of continuously produced tuberculosis vaccine.


Rational development of a tuberculosis vaccine: From drawing board to clinical trial

2016 Kaufmann, Stefan H.E.
Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine
Tuberculosis (TB) remains a global health threat and a new vaccine is urgently needed for better control. We have developed a novel TB vaccine with high efficacy and safety profile. The vaccine has proven its safety and immunogenicity in clinical trials in adults and infants in Germany and South Africa. Currently a study with newborns from HIV-infected mothers is ongoing in South Africa, and for 2016 a large study with adults at heightened TB risk is planned in India. more

Plasmodium infections: attacking the parasite before malaria hurts

2015 Matuschewski, Kai
Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine
Malaria is a poverty-related infectious disease in the tropics and a major challenge for medical research. A better molecular understanding of the underlying mechanisms of Plasmodium-host interactions and the complex parasite life cycle is the basis for innovative evidence-based intervention strategies. Novel insights from the clinically silent liver infection and related parasites in Afrotropical bats indicate previously unrecognized opportunities to stop the parasite prior to malaria onset and to induce a decisive immunological advantage in the host. more

Vector biology - a paradigm of host–pathogen interactions

2014 Elena Levashina
Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine
Insects represent 90% of animal species in our planet. Only a small fraction is known as vectors of infectious diseases. Our work is focused on Anopheles gambiae, the most efficient vector of malaria, which kills about 600,000 people annually. What makes some insect species such a good host for Plasmodium, the parasite that causes the disease? How does the mosquito detect Plasmodium and protect itself against the pathogen? These questions are the focus of our research, which aims to understand the molecular mechanisms of mosquito resistance to Plasmodium and their role in malaria transmission. more

Immunity and development - two sides of a coin?

2013 Zychlinsky, Arturo
Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine
Neutrophils make up the majority of white blood cells in humans. They are part of the immune system and have many ways to fight pathogens. One of their strategies is to cast net-like extracellular structures called Neutrophil Extracellular Traps (NETs). NETs consist of DNA, histones, and specific proteins. DNA and histones, however, are also responsible for organizing the genetic information and regulating the development of an organism. The Department of Cellular Microbiology works on this tight link between immunity and development. more
Scientists at the institute pursue innovative approaches to develop resistance-proof cures of acute and chronic infections. The strategy relies on the fact that infections decisively depend on the cooperation of host cell determinants, which constitute druggable targets. With the help of modern RNAi based screening technology the entire human genome was scanned for determinants essential for the replication and growth of Influenza viruses and Chlamydiae. The resulting data form a basis for the design of novel drugs and vaccines and provide striking views on the biology of infection. more

Tuberculosis: Research on a forgotten disease

2011 Kaufmann, Stefan H.E.
Infection Biology Medicine
Annually, 10 million individuals develop tuberculosis of whom 2 million die. Globally, an estimated 2 billion individuals are infected with the etiologic agent. New vaccines, drugs and diagnostics are urgently needed. Targeted research can make a difference. Our research reveals novel mechanisms of early host defense and provides insights into the granuloma as histologic correlate of protection and pathology. Further, we have developed a novel vaccine and characterized biomarkers for tuberculosis. more

Malaria: Why we need a vaccine

2010 Matuschewski, Kai
Infection Biology Medicine Microbiology
Malaria infects more than 300 million people and kills about 1 - 2 million children annually. Vector control programs and impregnated bednets limit the spread of malaria, but are not effective in eliminating the disease in Africa. Therefore, a vaccine is urgently needed. Since the pathogen constantly hides from the host immune system, scientists need to design innovative immunization strategies. more

Lymphocyte development from stem cells

2009 Melchers, Fritz
Cell Biology Developmental Biology Genetics Immunobiology
All essential blood forming cells can be generated from the embryonic stem cells of mice and retransplanted into recipient mice. The influence of a larger number of genes with different functions during the generation of the innate and adaptive immune system can thus genetically be studied under natural conditions. Since in embryonic stem cells a defect gene can be replaced by a copy of its intact form by homologous recombination, immunodeficiencies can be repaired by targeted gene therapy. more

Self-Tolerance in human B cells

2008 Wardemann, Hedda
Cell Biology Genetics Immunobiology
Somatic recombination and somatic hypermutation generate the diversity of the immunoglobulin (Ig) repertoire. Both mechanisms form Ig that recognize foreign antigens and also Ig that react with self-antigens. The frequency at which autoreactive Ig are made and where and when they are regulated to avoid autoimmunity is unclear. The generation of recombinant monoclonal antibodies from single isolated human B cells helps to answer these questions. more

Making sense of little antisense

2007 Vogel, Jörg
Genetics Infection Biology Microbiology
After decades of being either underestimated as a simple messenger for the expression of genes – from DNA to protein - or, vice versa, revered as the molecule from which all life potentially originated, RNA is now enjoying a well-deserved golden age as modern techniques allow researchers to uncover the myriad subtle roles that this molecule plays in the cells, tissues, and organisms. The RNA Biology Group at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology is exploring the functions of RNA molecules in bacteria that cause harm to humans and animals. more

Innate immunity in enteric infections

2006 Zychlinsky, Arturo
Shigella flexneri is the causative agent of Shigellosis, a severe form of bloody diarrhea which is prevalent in countries with poor sanitary conditions. Bacterial dysentery represents a severe health policy problem: Worldwide, an estimated 165 million cases of shigellosis annually occur resulting in at least 1.1 million deaths mainly among children. Shigella, which is transmitted through the fecal-oral route, is a remarkably virulent pathogen. In clinical trials, ten to a hundred bacteria are enough to trigger disease. S. flexneri is responsible for most of the infections, while infections with S. dysenteriae, the only species that produces Shigatoxin, are less common but can lead to devastating epidemics. The inflammatory response elicited by Shigella is rich in neutrophils, which are, like macrophages, effective antibacterial cells. Interestingly, neutrophils can also attack and kill Shigella extracellularly by producing net-like structures (Neutrophil Extracellular Traps, NETs). more

Helicobacter pylori – one of the most frequnet bacteriel pathogens

2005 Meyer, Thomas F.; Achtman, Mark; Aebischer, Anton; Moese, Stefan
Cultural Studies Infection Biology Microbiology
Helicobacter pylori comprises a multi-faceted model of host-pathogen interactions: Genetic fingerprints of world-wide collected strains reflect historical human migrations; translocation of bacterial CagA protein provokes changes in gastric cells; vaccine development uncovers principles of gastric immune protection. more

Novel helper molecules and pathways of antigen presentation in tuberculosis

2004 Schaible, Ulrich; Winau, Florian
Cell Biology Infection Biology Medicine
Tuberculosis is the most prevalent bacterial infectious disease and is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Protective immunity is mediated by T-lymphocytes including CD4 helper T cells, cytotoxic CD8 T cells as well as lipid-specific, CD1-restricted T-lymphocytes. Scientists from the Department of Immunology of the Max-Planck-Institute for Infection Biology now characterized a novel presentation pathway for mycobacterial antigens as prerequisite for effective CD8 T cell activation. This "detour pathway" originates from mycobacteria-infected macrophages undergoing programmed cell death (apoptosis). During apoptosis, infected macrophages release apoptotic vesicles containing mycobacterial material. Subsequently, these vesicles are taken up by dendritic cells, which process the engulfed antigens for presentation to CD8 T cells. Moreover, a new group of helper molecules named saposins was identified which facilitates antigen presentation of lipids through CD1-molecules. Saposins bridge the biophysical gap between membrane-bound lipids and hydrophilic presentation molecules. Lipid-specific T-lymphocytes play a role in tuberculosis since M. tuberculosis disposes of a waxy, lipid-rich cell wall. Insights into fundamental aspects of presentation of mycobacterial antigens are the basis for a better understanding of T cell activation and rational vaccine design against tuberculosis. more
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