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
Proteome of the human heart mapped for the first time
Researchers identify almost 11,000 different proteins throughout the heart more
Cellular power outage

Cellular power outage

Forschungsmeldung October 27, 2017
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

Protein atlas of fly cells

Forschungsmeldung March 07, 2016
Researchers visualize over 10,000 proteins of Drosophila more
Stop signals against protein clumps

Stop signals against protein clumps

Forschungsmeldung March 01, 2016
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

Gene variation promotes uncontrolled cell division

Forschungsmeldung December 17, 2015
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

Forschungsmeldung 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

A social network of human proteins

Forschungsmeldung October 22, 2015
Complex life is only possible because proteins bind to each other, forming higher-order structures and signal pathways more

Landfill sites in neurons

Forschungsmeldung May 20, 2015
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

Protein aggregates save cells during aging

Forschungsmeldung May 07, 2015
Max Planck scientists identify new role of protein aggregates in neurodegeneration more
Live broadcast from inside the nerve cell

Live broadcast from inside the nerve cell

Forschungsmeldung January 23, 2015
For the first time, Max Planck researchers observe protein degradation in intact brain cells more
<p>Blossoming partnership with a root</p>

Blossoming partnership with a root

Forschungsmeldung July 15, 2014
The symbiosis by which nodule bacteria make atmospheric nitrogen available for plants has very likely exactly one evolutionary origin, about 100 million years ago more
Cellular defense against fatal associations between proteins and DNA
Max Planck researchers discover new mechanism of DNA repair more
Tension triggers muscle building

Tension triggers muscle building

Forschungsmeldung March 14, 2014
Max Planck scientists discover important mechanism for muscle building more
Emergency alert in the cell

Emergency alert in the cell

Forschungsmeldung February 27, 2014
Max Planck Scientists identify new mechanisms in the cellular stress response more
Feeding RNAs to a molecular shredder

Feeding RNAs to a molecular shredder

Forschungsmeldung August 16, 2013
Max Planck scientists unravel the structure of a regulatory protein complex in RNA disposal more
Transistor in the fly antenna

Transistor in the fly antenna

Forschungsmeldung March 18, 2013
Insect odorant receptors regulate their own sensitivity more
New insights into a virus proteome

New insights into a virus proteome

Forschungsmeldung November 23, 2012
Max Planck scientists identify unknown proteins of the herpesvirus more
Cell membrane is patterned like a patchwork quilt

Cell membrane is patterned like a patchwork quilt

Forschungsmeldung May 04, 2012
Max Planck researchers clarify the structure of the cell membrane more
The dance of the chaperones

The dance of the chaperones

Forschungsmeldung March 08, 2012
Max Planck scientists identify key player of protein folding more
How cells dispose of their waste

How cells dispose of their waste

Forschungsmeldung January 23, 2012
Max Planck researchers reveal the structure of the cellular protein degradation machinery more
How the fly flies<br />

How the fly flies

Forschungsmeldung November 17, 2011
Max Planck scientists discover gene switch responsible for flight muscle formation more
Shoe strings and egg openers

Shoe strings and egg openers

Forschungsmeldung November 08, 2011
Max Planck scientists discover photosynthesis helper protein in red algae more
Bacterial roundabouts determine cell shape

Bacterial roundabouts determine cell shape

Forschungsmeldung June 03, 2011
Max Planck scientists decipher important mechanisms of bacterial cell wall synthesis. more
Proteomics – towards developing a library of cancer proteins
Scientists analyse the proteins within cells to identify tumour cells at an early stage. more
Chaperones fold Rubisco

Chaperones fold Rubisco

Forschungsmeldung August 01, 2010
Rubisco binds carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. Now researchers have revealed how the protein is formed more
Genetic Code 2.0

Genetic Code 2.0

Forschungsmeldung June 29, 2010
Novel artificial proteins for industry and science more
Go for Zucker

Go for Zucker

Forschungsmeldung May 27, 2010
Scientists develop new method to identify glycosylated proteins more
Fruit Flies - A Model for Bodybuilders

Fruit Flies - A Model for Bodybuilders

Forschungsmeldung March 10, 2010
Even in humans, 100 genes can play a role in the function of muscles more
Chaperones for climate protection

Chaperones for climate protection

Forschungsmeldung January 14, 2010
The protein Rubisco locks up carbon dioxide / Biochemists synthesis Rubisco in the test tube for the first time more
Cross-country runabouts - immune cells on the move

Cross-country runabouts - immune cells on the move

Forschungsmeldung November 16, 2009
In order to effectively fight pathogens, even at remote areas of the human body, immune cells have to move quickly and in a flexible manner more
From cell division to ageing

From cell division to ageing

Forschungsmeldung August 17, 2009
Max Planck scientists locate main cell switches more
Restless cells

Restless cells

Forschungsmeldung February 23, 2009
Cause of serious genetic disease discovered more

How cells handle broken chromosomes

Forschungsmeldung February 13, 2009
Max Planck Scientists discovered a novel cellular response towards persistent DNA damage more
The Watchdogs of chromosome-segregation

The Watchdogs of chromosome-segregation

Forschungsmeldung October 29, 2007
Structure of a central regulatory core complex solved - only tight together the trio is strong more
Asymmetry due to Perfect Balance

Asymmetry due to Perfect Balance

Forschungsmeldung April 25, 2007
Mathematical model allows elucidation of universal principles in cell polarity more

One Signal Elicits Thousands of Answers

Forschungsmeldung November 10, 2006
Max Planck scientists establish valuable database for analysing phosphorylated proteins more
Two Nerve Cells in Direct Contact

Two Nerve Cells in Direct Contact

Forschungsmeldung November 07, 2006
Proof now established of the direct computation of optical flow fields between two hemispheres in the visual centre of flies more
A Tumour Suppressor in Mice and Men

A Tumour Suppressor in Mice and Men

Forschungsmeldung May 29, 2006
Researchers in Munich discover a cellular mechanism that can protect against tumours more

A Catalogue of Proteins

Forschungsmeldung May 29, 2006
International proteome researchers map the entire active protein inventory in cells more
Salmonella caught red-handed

Salmonella caught red-handed

Forschungsmeldung March 15, 2006
Salmonella research provides clues to antibiotic development more
Bacteria Which Sense the Earth's Magnetic Field

Bacteria Which Sense the Earth's Magnetic Field

Forschungsmeldung November 20, 2005
Max Planck researchers uncover how a nanoscale "compass" inside bacteria orients them to the Earth's magnetic field more
Life In Deadly Conditions

Life In Deadly Conditions

Forschungsmeldung October 17, 2005
Max Planck researchers sequence the genome of a microbiological master of adaptation which lives where none other can anymore more
Crystals in Nanofocus

Crystals in Nanofocus

Forschungsmeldung August 31, 2004
Max Planck Scientists strike new paths in nanoanalysis and data storage with infrared light 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.

Essentials of Life

2/2013 Biology & Medicine
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.
Lab manager / Research assistant
Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Martinsried November 02, 2017
PhD Position
Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Martinsried October 04, 2017

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