Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics

Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics

Viruses, bacteria and other parasites pose a permanent threat to the survival of organisms. Most living creatures therefore have ingenious defence strategies in place with which to fight such invaders. The scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics focus on the development and functioning of such strategies. They examine how the immune system emerged in the course of evolution and how it develops from the embryo to the adult organism. They also analyse genes and molecules which are important for a functioning immune system. For example, they look into the factors controlling the maturation of immune cells and how chemical changes in the genetic substance DNA influence the immune defence. In addition to immunobiology, another research focus was established at the Institute in 2007: epigenetics. This science focuses on the inheritance of characteristics that are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence. This new research focus is expected to lead to a better understanding of diseases and cancers that cannot be defined in strictly genetic terms.


Stübeweg 51
79108 Freiburg
Phone: +49 761 5108-0
Fax: +49 761 5108-220

PhD opportunities

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

IMPRS for Molecular and Cellular Biology

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

Who keeps an eye on the house keeper?

Max Planck researchers reveal how the DNA is made accessible for gene transcription

Slow down of gene transcription

How genes are shut down during stress

Scientists discover cause of rare syndrome

Changes in the MSL3-gene lead to neurological and developmental dysfunctions

How flies got to the correct dose

New study sheds light on the evolutionary origin of sex chromosome dosage

Getting to the roots of acute myeloid leukemia

New insights into the role of the transcription factor HLX in acute myeloid leukemia


In the mid-1970s, Georges Köhler, later Director at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology in Freiburg, succeeded in fusing together a short-lived immune cell and a rapidly dividing cancer cell. The result was an immortal cell chimera with the ability to produce identical (“monoclonal”) antibodies, ushering in a revolution in biology and medical science. In 1984, Köhler was awarded the Nobel Prize along with César Milstein and Niels Kaj Jerne. The researcher, who died young, would have celebrated his 70th birthday this year.

Knowledge changes constantly as research probes the validity of existing knowledge and converts ignorance into new knowledge. Research may also create new ignorance by discovering entirely novel territories whose very existence we had not imagined. Our author analyzes the conditions most conducive to drawing back the curtains.

Research into epigenetics is a rapidly growing field. A recent conference at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology in Freiburg shed light on the reasons.

British mathematician Alan Turing developed a model for biological pattern formation over 50 years ago. Turing’s model can be used to explain, for example, how zebras and leopards get their characteristic markings. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Immunobiology and their colleagues from the University of Freiburg also discovered how hairy the mathematics behind this phenomenon can be. However, they succeeded in confirming Turing’s model empirically for the first time, and in identifying the key molecular factors that control the characteristic density and distribution of hair on the surface of animal bodies.

PhD Positions (f/m/d) - Immunobiology, Epigenetics, and Metabolism

Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Freiburg September 05, 2019

Scientific coordinator (m/f/d)

Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Freiburg September 05, 2019

Postdoctoral Position (m/f/d)

Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Freiburg September 04, 2019

Technical Assistant (m/f/d)

Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Freiburg September 04, 2019

Postdoc in biochemistry (m/f/d)

Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Freiburg September 04, 2019

Signalling fire of haematopoiesis

2018 Lefkopoulos, Stylianos; Clapes, Thomas; Trompouki, Eirini

Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Medicine

Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are a rare population capable of giving rise to all blood cells in our body. Understanding the molecular mechanisms of their development and maintenance can bring insights into how we could manipulate them ex vivo and treat hematological diseases. We use zebrafish and mouse as models to study HSC biology and focus on the role of inflammatory signaling in HSC generation during development but also HSC maintenance in adulthood. We are interested in transcription factors that cause HSC generation and are often deregulated in hematological diseases, like leukemia.


Inheritance beyond DNA: intergenerational epigenetic inheritance

2017 Zenk, Fides; Iovino, Nicola

Evolutionary Biology Genetics

The genetic information for building an organism is transmitted from parents to offspring through gametes. Although it has long been thought that the DNA blueprint solely is encoded in our genes, increasing evidence shows that stress-induced changes in the chromatin can also be inherited through gametes affecting gene regulation across generations. Our recent research shows that an epigenetic modification, H3K27me3, is maternally inherited and controls gene expression during early embryogenesis. Future work will address the mechanisms underlying intergenerational epigenetic inheritance.


Pebbles in the mosaic: Which cells shape our organs and where do they come from?

2016 Grün, Dominic

Developmental Biology Immunobiology

Every organ in our body is composed of a multitude of single cells. Key to understanding the function of an organ is the knowledge of all the distinct cell types with their respective function plus their developmental pathways, with a so-called stem cell as a common starting point. Innovative novel molecular biology methods now permit the simultaneous quantification of thousands of molecules across single cells. This reveals a fingerprint of a cell, permitting to discriminate cell types of different function and to infer developmental pathways.


In response to pathogens, immune cells activate a cellular program to eliminate harmful, infectious organisms and ensure our health. To mount a functional immune response, most immune cells require the reprogramming of their metabolic pathways. The scientists aim at gaining novel insight into how specific cellular compartments, so-called organelles, regulate such metabolic transitions. Of particular interest is hereby not only the function of individual organelles but also how inter-organellar communication drives metabolic immune cell programs and enables the fight against infections.


The role of molecular chaperones during transcription: implications in biomedicine and evolution

2015 Hummel, Barbara; Yoveva, Aneliya; Sawarkar, Ritwick

Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine

Molecular chaperones are known for their role in folding of proteins in the cytosol. The research focus of the research group is to study these chaperones operating at chromatin, at sites of gene expression. In 2015, two important aspects of chaperoning at chromatin were discovered. Firstly, the mechanistic basis of buffering of genetic variation in gene promoters was elucidated. Secondly, an unbiased interaction network of Hsp90 at chromatin was uncovered in human cells paving a way for understanding anti-cancer properties of Hsp90 inhibitors.

Go to Editor View