Top address for life science research

Bavaria invests up to 500 million euros in the competitive development of the Martinsried Max Planck Campus into an outstanding international research hub

April 29, 2021

In the coming years, the life sciences will be the focus of scientific competition - both for attracting outstanding minds as well as in terms of corresponding infrastructures. The Max Planck Society (MPG) has therefore decided to further develop its Martinsried campus into a flagship for life sciences beyond Germany and Europe. The Free State of Bavaria intends to fund the project with up to 500 million euros over the next ten years, subject to the approval of the state parliament. Minister President Markus Söder and Max Planck President Martin Stratmann signed a corresponding Memorandum of Understanding on April 29, 2021 in the Max Planck House in Munich.

The Martinsried site is already a beacon in European biotechnology and characterized by close networking between academic research, medicine, and industry. The majority of the medium-sized companies located here are spin-offs from scientific institutions, many originating from the two Max Planck Institutes of Biochemistry and of Neurobiology in Martinsried. In the past five years alone, 40 new start-ups were founded. Martinsried has thus developed into the Munich biotech center, with almost 100 companies in total to date. "We want to maintain and strengthen this innovation pipeline", the Bavarian Minister President affirmed. Together with the two Munich universities and other scientific institutions in Bavaria, the MPG wants to secure the national and international appeal of the Martinsried campus as research and technology location through competitive further development.

In this light, the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, located in Seewiesen, are to merge into a joint new Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence, which will grow through several new departments in the next years. The Seewiesen site is to be retained as an outstation for research in natural environments. Building on a successful history, especially in the molecular and cellular neurosciences, the MPI of Neurobiology has developed into one of the leading centers for research of neuronal circuits over the past two decades. Important methodological innovations, such as optical imaging and optogenetics, connectomics and single-cell sequencing, application of machine learning to biological datasets and virtual reality behavioral assays, have contributed to linking neuronal structures more closely to their function in the nervous system. The Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, in turn, is known worldwide for combining field ecology and laboratory-based approaches of behavioral research under one roof. As the successor to the Max Planck Institute for Behavioural Physiology, which gave a home to the burgeoning field of ethology in the early 1950s and where the subsequent Nobel Prize Laureate Konrad Lorenz conducted his research, the Institute's researchers have pioneered in the fields of neuroethology, sociobiology and behavioral ecology.

The growing understanding of behaviors in natural environments provides the relevant context for the mechanistic study of their neural basis. Conversely, the technological revolutions in neuroscience promise to transform behavioral ecology as well. Collaborations between researchers advancing these complementary approaches in the field and in the laboratory, both experimentally and theoretically, will accelerate the introduction of new tools and new concepts for both fields.

The Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry has produced four Nobel Prize winners:­  Feodor Lynen, Hartmut Michel, Johann Deisenhofer and Robert Huber – and its research has laid decisive foundations in manyscientific areas. Examples are the successful cancer research of Axel Ullrich, who paved the way for a biomedical blockbuster in cancer therapy, or the research of Ulrich Hartl on protein folding, the dysregulation of which triggers numerous diseases. In addition, the MPI has a long tradition in researching so-called nanomachines and deciphering their properties, modes of operation and structures. Some of the most groundbreaking technological developments were significantly advanced at this institute: for example techniques which enable us today to resolve structural details of living systems in the range of a millionth of a millimeter and below with the help of cryo-electron tomography, or the ability to collect, process and evaluate enormous amounts of data with mass spectrometry. Today, the latter method is used in cooperation with the University Clinic Großhadern and hospitals worldwide to characterize cells in pathological samples.

This wide range of biomedical research on the campus is to be complemented by researchers working on the development of new technologies, as these are often responsible for quantum leaps in our understanding of biological principles as well as their application. This involves key technologies such as molecular design, 3D printing of biological components, robotics, microsystems technology and artificial intelligence – as well as the development of new comprehensive, computational and analytical tools. Machine learning and big data will play a major role. Especially for modelling complex systems, such as a cell, a brain or the interaction between brains, quantum computers could become particularly important.

Against this background, special needs and challenges arise for the new campus especially with regard to the required computer-based equipment. For this reason, the MPG is considering expanding its computer center, which is currently located on the Garching Campus, to include an additional site in Martinsried. In this way, new capacities can be created to meet the challenges in the analysis of molecular structures, protein networks, imaging data and multidimensional behavioral measurements. In addition to standardized laboratories that will be relevant to many areas, there will be specialised laboratories and technical areas, for example for (cryo) electron microscopy or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The Max Planck Society attaches particular importance to the aspect of sustainability in order to achieve a significant reduction in the ecological footprint: "We want a climate-neutral research campus that is exemplary in its type and size in Europe," explained President Martin Stratmann. The plans also include a transparently designed meeting centre for science and the public near the future underground train station in Martinsried. This is where the new buildings will be developed successively from 2023 on.

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