Current Research Groups

The MPI-CBG has developed a non-departmental structure: While traditionally, Max Planck Institutes are divided into departments, we abolished this dividing structure and established an interactive network of research groups. All Research Group Leaders are independent, receive a defined package of support and have a defined amount of space.

The Alberti Lab aims to understand how cells adapt to environmental perturbations and stress. Stressed cells undergo changes on multiple levels to alter their physiology, metabolism and architecture. Many of these changes involve a controlled reorganization of the cytoplasm and the formation of membrane-less compartments. However, the ability to form such compartments becomes detrimental with increasing age, because compartment-forming proteins are also associated with age-related neurodegenerative diseases. Thus, understanding cytoplasmic organization may help us find a cure for these diseases and it may bring us closer to solving the enigma of aging.

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The Brugués Lab studies the mitotic spindle in African clawed frog and zebrafish embryos, as it plays a major role in cell division (mitosis). Using an approach that combines theory, biophysics and cell biology, the team wants to understand the mechanisms behind spindle and chromatin formation. The main goal is to work out, how small molecules can collectively form large complex structures such as microtubules that make up the mitotic spindle. On the long term this research might lead to results that help us to understand how the human embryo develops and what causes deformities after cell division.

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The Eaton Lab studies how cells communicate with each other to build tissues of specific sizes and shapes. We aim to elucidate connections between morphogen signaling, cell metabolism and cell mechanics, and to understand how specific patterns of tissue morphogenesis emerge from their interactions.

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The Hiller Lab is interested in a central question in genetics and evolutionary biology: Which differences in the DNA (genome) underlie differences in the characteristics (phenotypes) of species? The group develops computational methods to accurately detect functional differences in genomes by comparative analysis, applies these methods to discover statistical associations between genomic and phenotypic differences, and experimentally validates them. Our research contributes to an understanding of how nature’s diversity evolved.

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The Honigmann Lab focuses on biomembrane organization, specifically plasma membrane function. Applying optical nanoscopy techniques we study how lipids and proteins self organize in the context of apico-basal polarization of epithelial cells. We aim to dissect how signals between cytoplasmic scaffolds and the extracellular environment are relayed by the plasma membrane. Ultimately, we want to understand the molecular mechanisms of how cells differentiate into tissue specific morphologies.

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The Huisken Lab is a multidisciplinary team that takes a systematic and quantitative approach to understand fundamental principles of developmental biology. Using home-built light-sheet microscopy (SPIM) and data processing, we image and analyze tissue development in living animals, e.g. in the beating heart of a larval zebrafish.

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The Huttner Lab studies the cell biological as well as genomic basis of neurogenesis in the mammalian central nervous system. Especially, they are interested in the neocortex evolution – How do brains get bigger and folded? What are the genomic changes across species? How is the increasing number of basal progenitors needed for cortical expansion ensured?

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© Tristan Vostry

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The Hyman Lab studies how the inside of a cell — the cytoplasm — is organized. The lab is particularly interested in how cells can form functional compartments without using a membrane to separate them from the rest of the cell. This happens through a process called liquid-liquid phase separation, much like how oil and water separate in a vinaigrette. This breakthrough concept was developed in the lab and has changed the way we think about the basic properties of how a cell works. The lab now studies the properties of these compartments, as well as how they relate to disease.

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The Knust Lab focuses its research on why certain cells have a differentiated top and bottom side and how this polarity develops. To understand the processes behind polarization, the lab studies epithelial and photoreceptor cells in fruit fly and zebrafish embryos. Since loss of cell polarity causes tissue to degenerate or to grow uncontrollably, this research eventually leads to a better understanding of various diseases, from cancer to blindness.

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The Kreysing Lab seeks to first understand the optical properties of cells as relevant for the functioning of the vertebrate retina and in relation to tissue microscopy. Second, they research how physical transport mechanisms are essential for structure in biology to occur.

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The interdisciplinary and technology-oriented Myers Lab is developing new microscopes and computer vision methods to truly digitize and thus accelerate discovery in cell and developmental biology. Specifically, we are building application specific rigs and software that will allow us to better observe and quantitate meso-scale cell dynamics and cell lineages over long arcs of time during the development of a tissue or organism.

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While the localization of proteins in membranes is quite well studied and comparatively straightforward to visualize, lipids are much harder to locate and study. The Nadler Lab develops methods to visualize lipids in the cellular membranes by using chemical probes. This research will eventually lead to a better understanding of how biological membranes work by making observable what can’t be observed yet.

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Our main focus is to understand how cell biology drives morphogenesis using vertebrate eye formation in zebrafish. In the Norden Lab we aim to understand how growth of the eye takes place from optic vesicle to neuroepithelium and how it is ensured that always the right number of progenitors are generated to produce the correct quantities of neurons. We further aim to decipher which neurons are born at which location and time in development and how they reach their final position at which they fulfill their function. Our goal is to bridge scales from the cellular to the tissue level to achieve a holistic understanding of how the highly organized vertebrate retina is formed.

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The Pigino Lab uses cryo-electron microscopy, correlative light and electron microscopy, and 3D image processing to investigate the structure and the function of cellular machinery. We want to understand how molecules, such as proteins, assemble into large cellular machines in order to perform their function. We focus on cilia and eukaryotic flagella, how they assemble, set their length, move, and determine their diversity. Our ultimate goal is to understand how the cilium, one of the the most complex and multitasking cellular machine, is assembled, component after component.

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When flatworms lose their head, they simply re-grow a new one. The Rink Lab wants to understand how they manage. Generally, our research aims to unravel the molecular circuitry that enables regeneration.

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The MOSAIC Group does research in Scientific Computing for Image-Based Systems Biology. They exploit the unifying framework of particle methods for image analysis, numerical simulation, and model identification. The research is mainly theoretical and computational. As they do not perform own experiments and do not run a wet-lab, they collaborate with numerous experimental groups in order to apply their methods to help advance biology.

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Mass Spectrometry nowadays is becoming deeply integrated into the functional characterization of biologically important genes. Mass spectrometric methods are also becoming more and more important for molecular and cell biology research. Next to Mass Spectrometry Service, our lab is currently pursuing research, like mass spectrometric identification of proteins from organisms with unsequenced genomes, deciphering protein complexes and protein interaction networks by immunoaffinity purification and mass spectrometry, quantitative analysis of gel separated proteins, and quantitative profiling of lipids using auadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry.

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The skull is essential to human life as it protects the brain from damage. Despite the skull’s importance, many fundamental questions about skull development remain unanswered: What cellular behaviours drive skull growth and morphogenesis during embryogenesis? How is skull expansion regulated genetically? Which cellular processes go wrong in human craniofacial diseases? How does variation between species alter the cellular dynamics of skull growth?

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The Tang Lab is focused on mimicking cellular processes using in-vitro minimal systems. In particular, we use a molecular understanding of interactions between polymers, lipids, peptides, nucleotides and proteins to design and construct novel dynamic protocells using bottom up approaches. These model systems allows us to question our current understanding of biology whilst developing new technologies for synthetic biology applications.

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The Tomancak Lab's overall goal is to understand how the information contained in animal genomes transforms into coordinated cell behaviors during development, and how evolutionary changes in gene regulatory networks shape and constrain the formation of animal body plans. The most direct manifestation of the genome sequence is the tissue specific regulation of gene expression and the integration of tissue specific gene activity governs the building of a multicellular organism. Therefore, by studying patterns of gene expression and their evolutionary variations in developing systems, we take the necessary steps towards understanding the information transfer from genome sequences to developmental processes.

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The Vastenhouw Lab tries to understand how complex multicellular organisms generate multiple cell types with specific phenotypes and behaviors. During development, this process must be precisely coordinated in time and space through the generation of cell-specific transcriptional programs. In the intact organism, specific transcriptional programs also influence tissue homeostasis by controlling processes such as cell turnover, behavior and physiological status. Thus, a critical question in both development and physiology is how the decision to transcribe a gene at a given level is controlled. We mostly use zebrafish embryos because they provide an excellent model to perform our studies in a single, developmentally relevant context.

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Living organisms exhibit substantial stochasticity at the microscopic level. Yet they manage to act in a highly organized and well-orchestrated manner whenever they have to, for instance during embryogenesis. We want to understand the molecular architectures and computations that cells employ to communicate, learn and adapt to each other to deal effectively with noise. We develop statistical methods to study living organisms in a data-driven fashion but we are also interested in the de novo design of adaptive, noise-resistant circuits. Our research is mainly theoretical but we work closely together with experimental groups from the MPI-CBG and abroad.

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The research focus of the Zerial Lab is to unravel basic cellular processes at the molecular level and understand how they are applied in a tissue. We are particularly interested in endocytosis – how cells eat, drink and process information. We study endocytosis in the liver, how it regulates liver metabolism and signalling, and how cells interact to form the liver tissue. We look at how cells get infected by viruses, bacteria and parasites through these normal cell functions in order to understand the implications for disease.

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Jointly Affiliated Research Groups

Every cell has a story to tell. New technologies to sequence RNA and DNA from individual cells are providing unprecedented insights into the biology of complex tissues. We use single-cell genomic and transcriptomic data to reconstruct differentiation pathways, lineage hierarchies, and tissue heterogeneity in human organs and organoids. Our primary goal is to understand the mechanisms controlling cell fate decisions during development and regeneration, with a particular interest in illuminating uniquely human biology.

Co-affiliation: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

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