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.

Diabetes results from a breakdown of epigenetic control
Molecular barriers prevent pancreatic cells from losing their identity more
Epigenetics between the generations
Max Planck researchers prove that we inherit more than just genes more
Valuable waste
An enzyme keeps the parasites of the genome in check and turns them into an evolutionary advantage more
Obesity can sometimes be shut down more
The logistics on the drosophila X chromosome
Researchers decode molecular mechanism facilitating dosage compensation in flies more
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.
Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, Freiburg May 16, 2018

Inheritance beyond DNA: intergenerational epigenetic inheritance

2018 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. more

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

2017 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. more
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. more

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

2016 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. more

In the spotlight: Cells of the innate immune response become illuminated in Freiburg

2016 Lämmermann, Tim
Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine
Upon entry of an infectious organism, cells of the innate immune response mediate a rapid immune reaction to eliminate harmful pathogens and protect our tissues. The researchers aim to gain novel insight into how different types of immune cells coordinate their behavior at inflamed tissue sites to mount an optimal immune response. By using a special form of microscopy, the researchers could already decipher the molecular mechanisms which allow phagocytes to form prominent cell swarms collectively fighting pathogens in infected tissues. more
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