Patrick Cramer is the 9th President of the Max Planck Society
The chemist and structural and molecular biologist ((born 1969) took over the position of President of the Max Planck Society on June 22, 2023, following Martin Stratmann's nine-year tenure. The official handover ceremony was held on the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Max Planck Society in Göttingen, the birthplace of the MPG. Patrick Cramer has been elected for the term 2023 – 2029.
Duties of the President
The President is the head of the Max Planck Society. He determines the guidelines of science policy and represents the Society at home and abroad. He conducts negotiations at the highest political level. As Chairman of the Senate, the Administrative Council and the General Assembly, he can make urgent decisions in urgent cases that fall within the competence of these bodies.
Patrick Cramer has been a Scientific Member of the Max Planck Society since 2014. Most recently he served as the Executive Director at the Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences, the largest institute within the MPG. It was formed by a merger of two Göttingen institutes, the MPI for Experimental Medicine and the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry, where Cramer held the position as Director of the Department of Molecular Biology for nine years. For his research on gene transcription he has received numerous awards, including the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, the Ernst Jung Prize, and the Louis Jeantet Prize. Most recently, he was honoured with the prestigious Shaw Prize. Cramer is a member of the Leopoldina, the US National Academy of Sciences and the European Molecular Biology Organization. He is married and has two children.
The path to science
Patrick Cramer laid the foundation for his academic career in his hometown of Stuttgart, where he began his studies of chemistry, which he continued at the University of Heidelberg and successfully completed with a Diploma in 1995. He discovered the beauty of three-dimensional molecular structures during research stays at the Universities of Bristol and Cambridge, England - the beginning of a lifelong passion. He made structural biology the subject of his doctoral research and received his doctoral degree in 1998 based on work he conducted at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Grenoble, France. As a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of the later Nobel Prize laureate Roger Kornberg at Stanford University in the United States he unravelled one of the greatest mysteries in molecular biology: the three-dimensional structure of RNA polymerase, the central enzyme in the cell nucleus. The results provided initial insights into the intricate mechanism of gene transcription. With the help of this copying process, living cells generate messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules, which then serve as blueprints for protein production.
This scientific breakthrough served as a springboard for the young scientist's career. In 2001, Patrick Cramer took on a tenure-track professorship in biochemistry at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, making him one of the first tenure-track professors in Germany. Equipped with a long-term perspective, Cramer's research group decoded the transcription mechanism, a complex process involving numerous protein factors. In 2004, Cramer was appointed head of the Gene Centre in Munich, which – under his leadership – expanded to its current size. Additionally, he held the position of Dean of the Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy and initiated the Research Centre for Molecular Biosystems. Through these activities, Cramer collected invaluable experience in teaching, mentoring early career researchers, and governance at various research organizations.
The key to success
During his time as director at the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry, Cramer and his research group expanded their investigation of transcription to encompass fundamental aspects of genetic material regulation. They pioneered the development of novel experimental and computer-based methods for this purpose. In the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, they visualized the replication of the coronavirus genome. Leveraging this milestone, Cramer successfully unravelled the mechanisms through which Covid-19 drugs intervene in this replication process. These findings serve as a starting point for their ongoing collaborative quest to identify new antiviral agents. Beyond his research endeavours, Cramer served on national and international scientific committees, also as chairman of EMBL Council.
For Cramer, interdisciplinary cooperation is a vital factor for success. "With the help of a multidisciplinary team of researchers, we have succeeded in decoding gene transcription over the last two decades," says Cramer. As the President of the Max Planck Society, Cramer envisions fostering even closer synergy between research groups and across institutes. "I would like to encourage our research community to explore uncharted territory. For me, excellence also means to keep moving and to place trust in exceptional individuals who pioneer new scientific fields. We want to continue to generate transformative results that enable positive change in our world."
Scientific awards and honours (selection)
- 2023 Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine
- 2021 Gregori Aminoff Prize, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
- 2021 Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine
- 2020, 2016, 2010 three ERC Advanced Investigator Grants
- 2020 Otto Warburg Medal
- 2019 Ernst Schering Prize
- 2016 Centenary Award, British Biochemical Society
- 2012 Federal Cross of Merit
- 2010 Medal of Honour, Robert Koch Institute
- 2009 Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine
- 2006 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation