Emmanuelle Charpentier to become a Director at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin

July 23, 2015

The Max Planck Society is delighted that Emmanuelle Charpentier has accepted the call as Scientific Member and Director at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology. Charpentier is setting up a new department that she will head in a full-time capacity from 1 October 2015. Until now, Charpentier has been working at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig; she still has a research group at Umeå University in Sweden. The world-renowned microbiologist principally investigates how bacterial pathogens interact with their environment including the human host. Those studies led her to the instrumental discovery that the so-called CRISPR-Cas9 system of bacteria could be adapted for use as an extremely precise tool to edit genetic material and study gene function. Among others applications, the CRISPR-Cas9 system is being used to develop treatments of serious human diseases. These discoveries represent a true milestone for molecular biology, and Charpentier has won numerous awards for her work, including the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine, the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine as well as the Swedish Göran Gustafsson prize. In addition, she also secured a place on the 2015 Time Magazine's list of the world's most influential personalities. The discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 system made it onto both Science’s and Nature’s top-ten lists of the most important academic achievements in the past year.

In 2011-2012 Charpentier, together with her team at Umeå University in Sweden, elucidated the key molecular components and mechanism of the natural bacterial immune system. Because even bacteria get sick: certain viruses, so-called bacteriophages, can infect bacterial cells and inject their genetic material into the genome of these bacteria. As protection, bacteria have therefore developed a kind of "molecular scissors", the so-called CRISPR-Cas9 system, which enables them to excise the foreign genetic material.

Charpentier and colleagues then showed that genes can be specifically altered using the CRISPR-Cas9 system. Nowadays, the novel technique is used as a molecular biology tool worldwide and could pave the way for treating genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia in the future. "We are delighted that we have succeeded in winning such a high-calibre scientist for the Max Planck Society and keeping her in Germany," says Martin Stratmann, the President of the Max Planck Society.

In 2013, Emmanuelle Charpentier was offered an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship at the nominating institutions, the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research and the Hannover Medical School enticing Charpentier to Germany. She still holds a part-time guest professorship at Umeå University, where she has a research group and collaborating colleagues at the Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden. “I am very excited to join the Max Planck Society and my colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin. The Max Planck Society has offered me excellent conditions to continue my research programme in Germany focused on the understanding of regulatory processes in bacterial infectious diseases. I consider my recruitment as a great opportunity to strengthen the field of microbiology in the Society.”

Jürgen Mlynek, the President of the Helmholtz Association, emphasizes that Emmanuelle Charpentier has carried out ground-breaking research over the last several years. "For us it is very important that Dr Charpentier remains within the German scientific community, and personally, I wish her every success for the future. I am sure she will keep close ties to the Helmholtz Centre in Braunschweig."

Charpentier studied microbiology, biochemistry and genetics in Paris. She obtained her PhD from the renowned Pasteur Institute. Following research positions in New York, at The Rockefeller University, and in Memphis, she returned to Europe in 2002 and established a research group at the Max F. Perutz Laboratories, University of Vienna and six years later at the Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS) at the University of Umeå in Sweden.

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