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Max-Planck-Institut für Züchtungsforschung

Research at the Institute

Originally founded in Müncheberg near Berlin as the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Plant Breeding Research back in 1927, the Institute was incorporated into the Max Planck Society in 1948 and transferred to Cologne in 1956. The Institute’s research programs principally focus on molecular biological, genetical, biochemical, physiological and cytological aspects of plant development and breeding with the overall aims of improving plant protection and developing more efficient breeding techniques.

The Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research (MPIZ) has four departments:

whose research interests include:

  • structural and functional characterization of plant genes
  • genetic control of plant development
  • interaction between agrobacteria and nitrogen-fixing bacteria with plants
  • plant resistance to drought and other stress factors
  • reaction of plants to pathogen infestation (disease resistance)

Through their experiments, researchers study the function of genes involved in plant growth and metabolism. Such knowledge is not only crucial for plant breeding, but also contributes to more eco-friendly solutions for plant protection.

Genomics projects are being carried out in a number of crop plants and the function of genes are being determined in Arabidopsis thaliana by ZIGIA using insertion mutagenesis.

Many of the Institute’s projects have resulted in patents, such as gene transfer by Agrobacterium tumefaciens to plants (Prof. Schell). Other recent examples include:

  • The use of primers for universal fingerprint analyses (ISTR)
  • New reporter plasmids for ‘one- and two-hybrid systems’
  • Nucleic acid molecules encoding proteins involved in brassinosteroid synthesis in plants
  • Seedless fruits via parthenocarpy

Currently, a total of around 400 staff members (including externally funded positions) work at the Institute and of these 200 are research scientists.

Development of the Institute

The Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research was originally founded as the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Breeding Research in Müncheberg near Berlin in 1927. Its first director was the geneticist Erwin Baur who led the Institute until 1933. At this time, the main areas of interest were classical plant genetics and crop plant breeding. During the Second World War, the Institute went through several changes and in spring 1945, was relocated to Voldagsen in Niedersachsen. In 1948, the Max Planck Society was founded as the successor of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society and the Institute for Breeding Research became a member of the Max Planck Society in the same year. Under its second director, Wilhelm Rudorf, the Institute was once again relocated in 1956, this time to the farm grounds of “Gut Vogelsang” in Cologne. Research interests still concentrated on the classical breeding of crop plants such as barley, as well as fruit trees and plants. With the appointment of a new director, Joseph Straub, in 1961, the Institute began to change its focus from agriculturally directly applicable research to more basic academic research including ground breaking methods for plant regeneration, such as cell and tissue culture. Later on, Wilhelm Menke was appointed as director of a newly created department which focussed on thylakoid and chromosomal genetics.

With the appointments of Heinz Saedler, Jozef Schell, Klaus Hahlbrock and Francesco Salamini between 1978 and 1985, the Institute expanded from two to four departments. Simultaneously, its main focus changed to plant molecular genetic research and its application to plant breeding. This direction of research has been continued by the appointments of the molecular biologist Paul Schulze-Lefert and the microbiologist George Coupland in 2000 and 2001, respectively.

The Institute’s four departments are:

Plant Microbe Interactions, Plant Developmental Biology, Molecular Plant Genetics and Plant Breeding and Yield Physiology.

Additionally, centralised units have been set up to provide scientific services which include Central Plant Pathology (APP), Transformation of Monocots (ATM), Automated DNA Isolation and Sequencing (ADIS), Central Microscopy (CeMic), and the MALDI-TOF Mass Spectrometry Group.

In January 2001, the international research school for the "Molecular Basis of Plant Development and Environmental Interactions" was established at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research. This new PhD program addresses the needs of highly motivated science graduates by promoting new innovative research and supporting those young, dynamic research scientists who wish to pursue a career in the area of plant molecular biology.


Max-Planck-Institut für Züchtungsforschung

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