Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry

Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry

Proteins are the molecular building blocks and engines of the cell, and are involved in practically all life processes. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry investigate the structure of these proteins and how they function – from individual molecules through to complex organisms. They make use of the latest biochemical, imaging and genetic engineering methods to discover the structure of proteins, their properties and the tasks they perform in the human body. Further important areas of research are signal processing and transmission, the regulation of protein breakdown and how cancer evolves. The researchers also want to find out what the actual protein composition of the cell looks like and how complete biological systems function.


Am Klopferspitz 18
82152 Martinsried
Phone: +49 89 8578-1
Fax: +49 89 8578-3777

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):
IMPRS for Molecular and Cellular Life Sciences: From Biology to Medicine

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

Department Molecular Structural Biology more
Department Structural Cell Biology more
Department Proteomics and Signal Transduction more
Department Molecular Machines and Signaling more
Department Cellular and Molecular Biophysics more
Six Max Planck researchers land lucrative EU funding
ERC awards Advanced Grants worth up to 2.5 million euros each. more
Proteome of the human heart mapped for the first time
Researchers identify almost 11,000 different proteins throughout the heart more
Cellular power outage
Scientists are discovering pathways for proteins that lead defective proteins to the mitochondria for quality control more
Intestinal flora from twins is able to initiate multiple sclerosis
Genetically modified mice deliver first indication that human intestinal bacteria can trigger multiple sclerosis more
Protein atlas of fly cells
Researchers visualize over 10,000 proteins of Drosophila more
Stop signals against protein clumps
Synthesis of faulty protein chains leads to the formation of toxic aggregates more
Identifying another piece in the Parkinson's disease pathology puzzle
International consortium identifies and validates cellular role of priority Parkinson’s disease drug target, LRRK2 kinase more
Gene variation promotes uncontrolled cell division
A common mutation creates a binding site on a receptor for growth factors and thereby accelerates tumor growth. more
A protein atlas of the brain

A protein atlas of the brain

November 03, 2015
Max Planck scientists quantify all proteins of the mouse brain more
New force sensing method reveals how cells sense tissue stiffness
With the help of Talin, cells can sense mechanical attraction more
A social network of human proteins
Complex life is only possible because proteins bind to each other, forming higher-order structures and signal pathways more
Protein deposits in the brain have long been deemed damaging and the triggers for age-related disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease. Franz-Ulrich Hartl, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried, explains the conditions under which these deposits, known as aggregates, can also slow down ageing processes. more
Protein aggregates save cells during aging
Max Planck scientists identify new role of protein aggregates in neurodegeneration more
Matthias Mann, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, is one of the few scientists worldwide whose publications have been referenced so many times. more
Live broadcast from inside the nerve cell
For the first time, Max Planck researchers observe protein degradation in intact brain cells more
Elena Conti used to entertain the notion of becoming an architect. The fact that she decided to study chemistry in the end detracted nothing from her passion for the subject. As Director at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried, she studies the architecture of molecular machines in the cell – and is fascinated by the sophisticated structures in miniature.
The discovery of a visual pigment in the cell membrane of an archaebacterium in the early 1970s is owed solely to a researcher’s curiosity: For three years, the scientific community wouldn’t believe Dieter Oesterhelt. Forty years after his pioneering work at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried, bacteriorhodopsin and channelrhodopsin, which stems from a single-celled green alga, are gaining ground as new tools in neurobiology.
In the course of evolution, cells have acquired a lot of redundancy. Many processes are probably more complicated than they need to be. Petra Schwille from the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried wants to find out what constitutes the bare essentials of a cell. By concentrating on what’s important, the biophysicist also manages to reconcile her career and family life.
Effective and safe – This is what distinguishes the new class of vaccines based on an invention from the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry.
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Regulation of the second division of meiosis

2017 Zachariae, Wolfgang
Cell Biology Genetics Structural Biology
Haploid gametes are produced in meiosis, a special form of cell division where DNA replication is followed by two rounds of chromosome segregation and gametogenesis. Homologous chromosomes segregate in meiosis I, whereas chromatids disjoin in meiosis II. Scientists of the research group Chromosome Biology now revealed how the conserved Hrr25 kinase of yeast coordinates production and packaging into gametes of the single-copy genome in meiosis II. more

Getting chromosomes into shape using rings and sticks

2017 Gruber, Stephan
Cell Biology Genetics Structural Biology

Faithful distribution of the genetic material during cell division relies on the folding of DNA into discrete and compact bodies called chromatids. SMC protein complexes have evolved to deal with the tangly nature of long DNA molecules. They act as molecular clamps that bring together selected DNA segments. The researchers determined the architecture of the ancestral SMC complex and elucidated its dynamic localization on the bacterial chromosome. The results indicate that SMC rings are not merely DNA linkers but active machines, which step-by-step enlarge DNA loops to organize chromosomes.


Autophagy: the multifunctional recycling system of the cell

2016 Kaufmann, Anna; Wollert, Thomas
Cell Biology Genetics Immunobiology Structural Biology
Autophagy is a recycling system of the cell that prevents all kinds of cellular waste from accumulating. Autophagy sequesters such material in specialized containers, which are like other organelles of the cell surrounded by a flexible membrane. These containers transport their contents to cellular recycling stations for degradation. The researchers recently identified a specialized set of proteins that stabilize autophagic containers. Similar to recycling bins, these proteins form a stiff shell on top of the membrane to provide physical support. more

Minimization of life processes

2016 Schwille, Petra
Cell Biology Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Immunobiology Infection Biology Medicine Structural Biology
In spite of the great progress of the biosciences during the last decades, the very line of division between the animate and inanimate world still remains elusive. One of the most distinctive features of living systems is their compositional and organizational complexity, but how complex does life really have to be? Our research aims to identify a minimal set of fundamental features and governing principles of biological cells - being the smallest units of life - to enable their comprehensive biophysical, i.e., quantitative characterization by a defined set of parameters. more

Cilia – the antennae of cells

2015 Lorentzen, Esben; Taschner, Michael
Cell Biology Medicine Structural Biology
The cilium is a slim hair-like structure found on almost all cells in our body. The cilium functions both in motility and as an antenna that allows sensation between cells and the environment. To build a functional cilium, the cell relies on intraflagellar transport (IFT). A failure to complete the process of IFT leads to human diseases including infertility, blindness, mental retardation and cysts formation. How the cilium is formed and what goes wrong in cilium-related diseases is poorly understood and is the topic of intense research also because of its medicinal aspects. more

Aneuploidy – cells out of their balance

2014 Storchova, Zuzana; Hintringer, Wolfgang
Cell Biology Developmental Biology Genetics Structural Biology

When chromosomes mis-segregate during cell division, cells lose their balance. The resulting cells are aneuploid, they contain fewer or more chromosomes than usual. Aneuploidy is generally harmful for the cell and characteristic for pathological conditions such as Down syndrome or cancer. Scientists are currently investigating why aneuploidy is so harmful. Presumably, an imbalance of proteins present in aneuploid cells plays an important role in the process. Nevertheless, many questions regarding the origin of aneuploidy and its consequences still remain unanswered.

Proteins are synthesized as chains of amino acids. In order to fulfill a wide variety of biological functions, these chains must fold into specific three-dimensional patterns. This process of protein folding is mediated in our cells by molecular chaperones, helper molecules which act to prevent the clumping of faulty protein chains into aggregates. The formation of aggregates is the cause of neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Understanding the role of molecular chaperones will help in developing treatments for these and other diseases. more

Wing commander: Muscle gene makes insects fly

2013 Schnorrer, Frank; Schönbauer, Cornelia
Cell Biology Developmental Biology Genetics Medicine
Flying insects face the challenge to be up in the air. To stay airborne they need to oscillate their wings at frequencies up to 1000 times per second. These fast oscillations are powered by specialized flight muscles that contain a particular fibrillar organisation of their contractile apparatus and hence differ from all other muscles. In vinegar flies (Drosophila) the researchers identified a developmental switch gene, spalt, which induces the formation of these specialised flight muscles. Spalt mutants are flightless: their flight muscles have lost all their special properties. more

The exosome: a molecular cage for shredding RNAs

2012 Conti, Elena
Cell Biology Structural Biology
Much in the same way as we use shredders to destroy documents that are no longer useful or that contain potentially damaging information, cells use molecular machines to degrade unwanted or defective macromolecules. A key player in the degradation of RNAs is the exosome complex. Our work has revealed how the exosome binds and shreds RNAs by a channeling mechanism that is largely conserved in all kingdoms of life and that parallels the mechanism used by the proteasome to degrade polypeptides. more

Immune system protection can cost your health

2012 Schmidt-Supprian, Marc
Cell Biology Immunobiology
Our bodies are constantly under attack by hostile microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses. Immune cells can identify foreign microbial components through a host of cell surface receptors. These receptors relay signals to the nucleus, where transcription factors activate the expression of genes whose protein products help fight the invaders. Misguidance of immune mechanisms can result in autoimmunity and leukemias or lymphomas. Researchers employ genetic mouse models to understand how signal transduction orchestrates immune responses and how its deregulation causes disease. more

How the cell controls chaos

2011 Wedlich-Söldner, Roland
Cell Biology Structural Biology
Cranes, dump trucks, power shovels and lots and lots of workers: The tight organization of large construction sites reveals itself only to the patient observer. Similar endurance is needed when scientists study cellular processes. With the help of new microscopes, sensitive cameras and computational approaches cell biologists reveal new types of structures and processes and analyze them with nearly mathematical precision. Step by step a new image of the cell emerges – as a highly dynamic and strictly coordinated biological system. more

Regulation of genome stability by ubiquitin and SUMO

2011 Jentsch, Stefan
Cell Biology Genetics
Modification of proteins can alter their function. If proteins are modified by the small protein ubiquitin, the proteins are usually targeted for degradation. However, our work has shown that ubiquitin and its related protein SUMO can also mediate DNA repair and genome stability. In human, this mechanism is important to avoid tumor formation. more

Small RNA-guided gene silencing

2010 Meister, Gunter
The genetic information encoded by DNA is transcribed to mRNA molecules which are subsequently translated into proteins. However, only a minor portion of the human genome encodes for proteins. The bulk of the human DNA is non-coding. Interestingly, non-coding DNA is constantly transcribed into non-coding RNA and it was found that such non-coding RNAs have fundamental cellular functions. Extensive research of the past years revealed that non-coding RNAs can also play important roles in the pathogenesis of diseases including various forms of cancer. more

The first complete proteome

2010 Mann, Matthias
Cell Biology Medicine Structural Biology
The genes of an organism are only the blueprint for the real functional entities of the cell - the proteins. So far it was unfortunately not possible to analyse proteins with the same accuracy and depth as the genetic material, the DNA. Scientists at the Max-Planck Institute of Biochemistry have now measured the totality of all proteins of an organism – its proteome – for the first time. Possible applications of this technology include almost all areas of basic biology and may include cancer diagnosis in the future. more

Structural analysis of dynamic virus-host-interactions

2009 Kay Grünewald
Genetics Immunobiology
The structure of viruses provides a remarkable example of simplicity and functionality in biological systems. Composed of a limited number of proteins and often organized according to geometric principles, viral particles are effective devices in the transfer of the viral genome and proteins to host cells. To determine the molecular interactions, cryo electron tomography is employed to reveal the molecular players through which viruses communicate with their hosts and to understand how viruses take advantage of cellular cues in infection and for replicating themselves efficiently. more

Semiconductor chips with brain tissue

2009 Fromherz, Peter
Complex Systems Neurosciences
Semiconductor chips and neuronal systems can be electrically coupled on a microscopic level. This research provides the fundament for an application of such hybrid processors in brain research, neuroprosthetics and information technology. On the neuronal side, ion channels, nerve cells and brain tissue are employed. On the electronic side, simple silicon chips with transistors and capacitors are used for the elucidation of the coupling mechanism. On that basis, complex chips are developed with more that 30000 contact sites to supervise neuronal activity with highest spatial resolution. more

Infrared Nanoscopy

2008 Hillenbrand, Rainer
Material Sciences
This article describes an optical microscopy method with nanoscale resolution independent of the wavelength, based on atomic force microscopy, where a scanning tip is used for mechanical probing and for scattering optical near-fields. Operating at infrared frequencies, potential applications range from characterization of solid state surfaces to identification of single nanoparticles and macromolecules. more

Molecular systems biology of halophilic Archaea

2008 Oesterhelt, Dieter
Cell Biology Ecology Microbiology
Life in concentrated brines under extreme conditions of nutrition requires extreme adaptation. By molecular and functional analysis of cellular constituents of halophilic archaea it is possible to gain insight into the biology of these fascinating organisms on a systems level of the cell. more

Chromosome segregation in vertebrates

2007 Stemmann, Olaf
Cell Biology
The exact halfing of the previously replicated chromosomes during mitosis and both meiotic divisions is crucial to avoid tumor formation and trisomies. Chromosomes are separated by action of separase, a giant protease, which cleaves chromosomal cohesin. Researchers from the Max-Planck-Institute of Biochemistry recently discovered a new regulation and an unexpected, non-proteolytic function of this key enzyme. more
Coordinated growth and differentiation of specialized tissues during the development of higher eukaryotes requires precisely regulated communication between the multiple cell types of an organism. The same holds for the maintenance of all life functions of mature organisms. Defects in the cellular communication network cause multitudes of pathological phenomena such as cancer, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. The research program of the Department of Molecular Biology is focussed on the elucidation of such critical biological and pathophysiological processes. Main emphasis of the research efforts is on the investigation of signaling mechanisms in normal cells and degeneration of signaling pathways in cancer. more

Proteolysis-mediating Protein Complexes

2006 Buchberger, Alexander
Cell Biology Structural Biology
Our research focuses on the regulation of substrate specificity in the ubiquitin proteasome system, specifically on two modular protein complexes: the CBCVHL ubiquitin ligase with its substrate binding subunit, the von-Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor protein, and the chaperone-like Cdc48 AAA ATPase with cofactors of the UBX protein family. UBX proteins bind to Cdc48 and thereby regulate the specificity of Cdc48 activity in various cellular processes. UBX proteins with a ubiquitin binding UBA domain recruit ubiquitylated substrates which are targeted via Cdc48 for proteasomal degradation. One such UBA/UBX protein, called Ubx2, plays a central role in endoplasmic reticulum (ER) associated protein degradation (ERAD). Biochemical studies of tumor associated mutants of the von-Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor protein provide new insights in the complex genotype/phenotype relationship of the von-Hippel-Lindau disease. For instance, the extent of functional defects on the molecular level correlates with the patients´ risk of developing renal cell carcinomas. more

Molecular Oncology

2005 Hermeking, Heiko
The aim of our group is to understand the function and regulation of the transcription factors p53 and c-MYC, as well as the processes and genes which they regulate. c-MYC and p53 are genes which are altered in more than 50% of all cancers. The tumorsuppressor gene product p53 is activated after DNA damage and induces genes, as 14-3-3sigma, which mediate cell cycle inhibition. p53 is an integral part of the program of cellular senescence. In contrast, activation of the c-MYC oncogene leads to immortalization. How this function of c-MYC is achieved is a focus of our studies. In addition, we are identifying and characterizing genetic and epigenetic alterations which contribute to prostate cancer and malignant melanoma. For these projects we are using novel proteomic and genomic approaches. more

High resolution microscopy of cells and surfaces: cryoelectron tomography and scanning infrared microscopy in the optical near field

2005 Engelhardt, Harald; Keilmann, Fritz; Baumeister, Wolfgang
Cell Biology Microbiology
Our department is involved in the development and application of new microscopical methods. The automated cryo-electron tomography images ice-embedded macromolecular complexes, viruses, prokaryotes, and eukaryotic cells in a native state and yields 3D-reconstructions at molecular resolution. The technique offers the perspective to analyse the interactions of macromolecular complexes in individual cells in a near-to-live state. Infrared near-field microscopy enables high-resolution topographic imaging of, e.g., organic materials or single viruses together with simultaneous recording of local infrared absorption. more

Regulation of cell growth and division

2004 Barr, Francis
Cell Biology
Animal cell growth and division requires the constant delivery of new proteins and lipids from their site of synthesis in the endoplasmic reticulum to the cell surface. Cell growth and DNA replication in S-phase is followed in M-phase by the ordered segregation of the genetic material into two equivalent sets of chromosomes, then by a cleavage event termed cytokinesis which divides the cell into two such that each part contains one complete set of genetic material (Figure 1). Investigation of these processes and their regulation at a molecular level is therefore important for understanding both normal cell growth and division and how, when cell division fails, the aneuploid cells that contribute to human tumour formation arise. My group is interested in understanding how human cells establish and regulate the complex three-dimensional structures necessary for cell growth and division. To do this we have focussed our work on two areas central to these processes: (i) protein traffic and the function of the key organelle of the secretory pathway, the Golgi apparatus; and (ii) the function of the central spindle in protein trafficking events that lead to cytokinesis. more

Molecular Medicine

2004 Fässler, Reinhard
Cell Biology
We investigate integrin-mediated adhesion in various tissues of mice. To this end we establish mouse models with targeted mutations in extracellular matrix proteins, integrins and integrin-associated proteins. The consequence of the mutations are analyzed during mouse development, which allows to assess the physiological function of the mutant gene, and disease situations such as inflammation tissue repair and tumor formation. more
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