Max Planck Institute for Medical Research
At the MPI for Medical Research, physicists, chemists and biologists create knowledge of long-term relevance to basic medical science. With the arrival of three new directors in 2015/16, the institute has a new unifying theme: observing and controlling the vastly complex macromolecular interactions in the context of cells - both in health and disease. The presently four departments contribute to this goal through their complementary expertise: optical microscopy with nanometer resolution (Stefan Hell), the design of chemical reporter molecules (Kai Johnsson), macromolecular structure determination (Ilme Schlichting), cellular, materials and biophysical sciences (Joachim Spatz). The institute has a distinguished history of fundamental breakthroughs, evidenced by six Nobel Prizes awarded to its researchers since its foundation.
In the general excitement of a time when three-dimensional protein structures of whole genomes are being determined automatically, it is often forgotten that a structure in itself does not tell one how the molecule works or folds.
The Department of Chemical Biology focusses on the visualization and manipulation of biological activities in live cells. The in vivo localization and quantification of protein activities, metabolites and other important parameters has become a central quest in biology, but the majority of cellular processes remain invisible, to date. We address this challenge by developing conceptually new tools to unravel the complexity of living cells.
Following conventional wisdom, the resolution of light microscopy is limited by diffraction to about half the wavelength of light, which is why conventional light microscopes fail to distinguish object details that are closer together than ~200 nanometers. Stefan Hell and co-workers have broken this century-old barrier by developing, since the early 1990's, novel fluorescence microscopes featuring diffraction-unlimited spatial resolution. Thus, they also laid the foundation of a new scientific field: super-resolution fluorescence microscopy, also known as nanoscopy.
The primary scientific goal of the department is to develop technologies, based on physics, chemistry and materials science, for unraveling fundamental problems in cellular science, biomedical science and the engineering of life-like materials. For example, the department fundamentally investigates the organization and decision-making processes of cell collectives and organoides as well as the assembly and function of synthetic cells, designer immune cells and tissues.