Prof. Dr. René Ketting & Dr. Ralf Dahm: The Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH (IMB) in Mainz – Life science research with an international reach

IMB is a non-profit company that focuses on basic research in the life sciences. It is funded through generous support from the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation, which provides 100 million euros over ten years for operating expenses. The state of Rhineland-Palatinate contributed approx. 50 million euros for the modern ­research building that houses IMB, which was inaugurated in 2011.

The research at IMB aims to understand three fundamental areas of the modern life sciences:

how organisms develop from a fertilised egg into an adult organism (developmental biology),

how the activity of our genes is controlled (epigenetics), and

how our genome is maintained intact over long periods of time (DNA repair and genome stability).

Developmental biology aims to understand how the information contained in our genes is interpreted to create an adult organism. Recent advan­ces in technology have spurred enormous progress in this field. For instance, it is now easy to sequence whole genomes of individual organisms and to determine which genes are active when and where in an embryo. This has enabled scientists to gain unprecedented insights into one of the most complex processes we know: the events that shape an organism as it develops from a fertilised egg.

Epigenetics is a rapidly expanding field that investigates how the activity of genes is controlled. In recent years, epigenetic mechanisms have been shown to play a key role in how organisms develop, how they age and how they adapt to their environments. More­over, epigenetics underlies many diseases, such as allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders, mental illnesses, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. Understanding epigenetic mechanisms is therefore crucial to addressing some of the most fundamental open questions in biology and medicine.

DNA repair and genome stability is the third research area at IMB. Our genome is under constant attack: radiation, UV light and pollutants, for example, damage our DNA. But even our normal metabolism generates reactive molecules that cause DNA lesions. On average, the DNA of every cell in our body suffers tens of thousands of lesions every day. To cope with these, cells have evolved mechanisms to repair their DNA. Understanding these, and how they interact with the ongoing processes of gene regulation, will be an important step towards elucidating how organisms protect and use their genome.

 

Around 200 scientists drive this research at IMB. More than half of them are from outside Germany, coming from over 20 different countries. Biochemists, geneticists and molecular biologists do experiments in state-of-the-art laboratories, alongside bioinformat­icians, who use computational and mathematical approaches to analyse large datasets, as well as physi­­cists, who build new scientific instruments.

This diversity – in our scientific approaches and in the backgrounds of our researchers – fosters innovative research. Furthermore, hierarchies at IMB are deliberately flat, and our research groups enjoy full independence. Projects are typically carried out by small, agile teams that can respond quickly to new developments in their fields.

 

IMB ensures that its scientists can work product­ively. A key part of the support we provide comes through our “core facilities” – central technology platforms and service units that offer modern instrumentation and expertise in genomics, proteomics and protein production, bioinformatics, cytometry, and microscopy. They allow our re­search groups to rapidly expand into new fields. This keeps our research groups competitive in fast-paced, dynamic environments. Our core facilities are also open to external users, providing starting points for collaborations.

Our researchers and technology specialists are also supported by strong scientific management. This ensures that IMB’s scientists have the freedom to carry out their research with as little administrative burden as possible. The support offered by IMB’s scientific management includes strategic planning, research benchmarking, fundraising and managing extramurally funded projects. It also encompasses the organisation of a wide spectrum of events. These range from seminars and workshops on specialised and emerging topics to large, international conferences. By inviting leading experts from around the world, these events increase the international visibility of IMB, network our researchers into the wider scientific community and ensure they stay up-to-date with the latest scientific and technological developments.

 

IMB’s scientific management also coordinates innovative recruitment and training programmes. They attract outstanding talent to IMB and en­­sure they can maximise their potential. To allow our researchers to make the most of their abilities, we offer a comprehensive, structured programme of advanced training in scientific and technical topics, as well as in key transferrable skills. In addition, we provide a career development programme for our junior scientists. This training and career development is complemented by a range of activities that bring researchers from different areas together and foster interdisciplinary collaborations.

Despite still being a young institute, IMB has es­­tablished a strong research programme and is en­gaged in numerous collaborations with academic partners in Mainz and the surrounding region, as well as nationally and internationally. As such, the institute will hopefully become a focal point for modern biological research in the area and strengthen the image of Rhineland-Palatinate as a premier location for innovative research.

 

Prof. Dr. René Ketting
René Ketting studied chemistry and molecular biology at Leiden University. After doing research in the USA and the Netherlands, he became group leader at the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht. From 2010 to 2015, he was a full professor at Utrecht University. In 2012 he joined at the Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH (IMB) in Mainz as Scientistic Director and became its Executive Director in 2015.

Dr. Ralf Dahm
Ralf Dahm obtained his MSc and PhD in biochemistry from the University of Dundee, UK. After being a postdoc and science manager at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen, he was research group leader at the Center for Brain Research (CBR) of the Medical University of Vienna, Austria. From 2008 to 2010 he worked as Director of Scientific Manage­ment at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), Madrid, Spain, before he became Director of Scientific Management at the Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH in Mainz.