Max Planck Institute for Medical Research
Research at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research has, ever since its founding in 1927 as a Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, benefited from the work of notable scientists and excellent science on the border between physiology, physics, chemistry and biology.
With the appointment of three new directors in the last few years, the institute has experienced a major reorientation. The new, central topic of research is to observe in real time and manipulate the complex dynamics of the interactions between macromolecules in the living cell, in health and disease. The four departments contribute their unique expertise in complementary areas: the determination of atomic structures (Ilme Schlichting), optical nanoscopy (Stefan Hell), design of new reporter molecules (Kai Johnson) and cellular material research and biophysics (Joachim Spatz). This institute-wide project involves developing tools for biomedical research which could lead to new know-ledge, insights and medical advances. In doing this, the institute upholds the vision of the founder, Ludolf von Krehl, to advance medical research through the collaboration of physiology, biology, physics and chemistry under one roof.
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.