History of the Institute


The Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology (MPI-IB) was founded in 1961 on the premises of the former research institute of the pharmaceutical company Wander AG in Freiburg. Until the end of the 1970’s, under the directorship of Prof. Dr. Otto Westphal, Prof. Dr. Herbert Fischer and Dr. Otto Lüderitz, the institute was primarily engaged in studying the interactions between infectious agents and the immune system, with special emphasis on the bacterial substance endotoxin.


With the recruitment of Prof. Dr. Klaus Eichmann (1981) and Prof. Dr. Georges Köhler (1984), the thematic focus of the institute expanded to cellular and molecular mechanisms of B and T cells. Klaus Eichmann and colleagues were the first to describe the development of functional lymphoid tissue from embryonic stem cell lineages. In 1984, Georges Köhler and Cesar Milstein were awarded the Nobel Prize for their pioneering work on monoclonal antibodies using the hybridoma technique. The untimely death of George Köhler in 1995 was a tremendous loss to the institute and the scientific community.


Through a special funding by the State of Baden-Württemberg, Developmental Biology was added as another scientific focus, resulting in the recruitment of Prof. Dr. Davor Solter (1991) and Prof. Dr. Rolf Kemler (1992). Davor Solter was one of the first to identify genomic imprinting and his research focused on genetic and epigenetic mechanisms regulating mouse pre-implantation development. Rolf Kemler identified the first cell-cell adhesion molecule (e-cadherin) in mouse development and significantly advanced the understanding of mouse embryogenesis.


With the appointment of Dr. Thomas Boehm (1998) as successor of George Köhler, Developmental Immunology was added as a new research focus. Efforts towards a stronger cooperation between MPI and the Faculty of Biology at the University of Freiburg led to the establishment of the University Department of Molecular Immunology at the MPI and recruitment of Prof. Dr. Michael Reth as its head (1998). In addition, the Spemann Laboratory, consisting of three independent junior research groups, was established with the aim of promoting early independence of junior scientists. With the appointment of Prof. Dr. Rudolf Grosschedl as successor of Klaus Eichmann (2004), the thematic connection between Immunology and Developmental Biology was further strengthened and the molecular mechanisms of lymphoid cell differentiation and the regulation of genes via extracellular signals, were added as new research areas.


In 2006, the International Max Planck Research School for Molecular and Cellular Biology (IMPRS-MCB) was intitiated by Rudolf Grosschedl, in collaboration with colleagues of the University of Freiburg. At the beginning of 2006, the President of the Max Planck Society launched a competition between all Institutes of the Society to establish a new department with an innovative research theme. Among all proposals, “Epigenetics” was selected and Prof. Dr. Thomas Jenuwein (2008) accepted an offer of the Max Planck Society to direct the new department “Epigenetics”. To make a relevant impact in the field of epigenetic research, the Kollegium decided to additionally appoint an epigenetics researcher as successor of Davor Solter.

At the end of 2009, Dr. Asifa Akhtar was appointed as a Max Planck Investigator focusing on “Chromatin Regulation” and was promoted to Director in April 2013.   


In December 2010, the institute was re-named to “Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics” (MPI-IE), reflecting the two key areas of modern biology being conducted at the institute. With the establishment of the “Epigenetic Focus” at the MPI-IE, an international biennial meeting on the broad area of epigenetics and chromatin was founded. In December 2011, more than 200 guests celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the MPI-IE. "Future needs ancestry" emphasized Peter Gruss, President of the Max Planck Society, and honoured the achievements of the MPI-IE.

After a very sucessful career Rolf Kemler resigned from the director position in February 2013. He continued research in an emeritus group until the end of 2016.


In 2015, Erika Pearce was recruited as successor of Rolf Kemler (2013). She became head of the newly established department of Immunometabolism at the institute. As in the past, new junior group leader positions are continuously being established at the MPI-IE to ensure new input for exciting fields of research.

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