Profile of the Institute
Every organism has its own particular shape typical of the species. It is determined by genes, the products of which have multiple biochemical functions during development. The molecular mechanisms underlying spatial information in the embryo, communication between cells in induction processes, the morphogenesis and differentiation of tissues and organs, as well as the evolution of developmental mechanisms, are main topics of the scientific projects conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology.
Comparative analysis of genes shows that there are basic mechanisms of morphogenesis which are realized by molecules with the same or similar functions in different animals. This both surprising and significant finding is highly important for research strategies since it underlines that findings obtained with invertebrate model organisms (e.g. Drosophila, Nematodes) are also relevant to vertebrates, including man. To benefit from genetic approaches in the case of vertebrates, the zebrafish was developed into a promising novel genetic model system at our Institute. Embryos of the clawed frog (Xenopus) and the chicken are used in cell biological and biochemical studies. The broad variety of organisms enables interesting and promising comparisons of developmental processes to be carried out.
How do cells become different during development? Signal transduction pathways transmit information between cells. A limited number of such induction pathways are known for the animal kingdom, which operate repeatedly in different processes. The signalling molecules are often distributed in gradients, which have far-reaching effects, and whose genesis and function are not yet fully understood. At the Institute, molecular mechanisms of morphogenesis are studied in various systems. The topics investigated include the generation of polarity by mRNA localization, the development of the nervous system, axonal guidance, the migration of cells out of the neural crest and during gastrulation, and organ development.
Despite the similarity of genes, the results of development are obviously different: clearly only a fly (and not, say, a worm) can emerge from a fly’s egg. How can corresponding structures of related organisms be modified during evolution? Comparison of the development of a defined organ in nematodes reveals the modification of the biochemical partners of some gene products. To decide whether these single-case observations can be generalized, the genomes of related species must be extensively analysed. Functional genomic analysis at the Institute concentrates on fish and nematodes.
At the end of 1999, the Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie had 186 employees (excluding externally funded positions). A total of 81 scientists carry out research at the Institute, one third of which come from outside Germany. The result is an international atmosphere and the official working language is English. Approximately one quarter of research scientists in the Institute are female.
The Institute has 5 divisions and several associated research groups.
Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie