International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) ‘From Molecules to Organisms’ The International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) “From Molecules to Organisms” provides the next generation of scientists with the knowledge and skills to study complex biological processes, which cannot be adequately understood within the limits of single disciplines, in the context of entire organisms.

The IMPRS “From Molecules to Organisms” provides excellent interdisciplinary training across the disciplines of structural, molecular, cellular and developmental biology as well as bioinformatics, genomics and evolutionary biology.

The challenging and innovative program bridges between diverse disciplines and several levels of biological organization. Research topics offered to the students are drawn from the following traditionally separate fields:

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry and structural biology
  • Bioinformatics and computational biology
  • Molecular and cellular biology
  • Developmental biology and genetics
  • Genomics and proteomics
  • Microbiology and microbiome science
  • Evolutionary biology and ecology

We offer you

  • high standards of dedicated mentoring
  • a vibrant interdisciplinary community of international researchers
  • cutting edge technologies in our research facilities
  • personal and professional skills development opportunities including
  • a wide range of scientific skills courses
  • transferable skills workshops
  • career development support through workshops and individual support

Mentoring & Supervision
PhD projects are available with selected faculty from the Max Planck Institute for Biology, the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory and the University of Tübingen. You will be conducting your work at the laboratory of your advisor at one of the three locations.

Program language
The program language is English. We encourage and support our PhD students to learn German.

Degree awarded

Our students generally obtain their doctoral degree from the Faculty of Science at the University of Tübingen. The awarded degree is Dr. rer. nat. (Doctorate in Natural Sciences).

Apply to the IMPRS ‘From Molecules to Organisms’ Are you interested in doing a PhD with us? We welcome applications from talented and ambitious individuals, from all nationalities, to join the IMPRS ‘From Molecules to Organisms’. We have regular application rounds. Between application rounds you may submit a speculative application to MPI and FML faculty.

Who can apply (requirements)?
To be eligible to apply you need to

  • hold, or expect to hold, a Masters (or Diplom) degree in Natural or Computer Science. All prior degree work must be finished before the PhD start date.
  • Bachelors-only applicants: Exceptionally talented students holding only a Bachelors degree may be admitted. You should hold a 4-years honors degree, have excellent grades and possess extensive and relevant research experience. Additional study requirements may be assigned
  • be able to show that your interests, skills and knowledge match well with your proposed area of doctoral research. 
  • be able to demonstrate a high level of written and spoken English.

If you obtained your degree(s) OUTSIDE the European Higher Education Areawe welcome if your applicationincludes scores from the GRE General Test. To have your scores forwarded to us online, supply our institution code: 4791.  In general, successful applicants have scored above 152 on the verbal test and above 155 on the quantitative test.
Applicants with an Indian GATE score can also supply this instead of, or as well as, the GRE.

When can I apply?
We have regular application rounds.

Summer application round in 2023:
Applications open: 27 June 2023
Applications close: 16 August 2023

Available 6 PhD Projects: The location of the PhD project depends on the advisor and is noted in the project description. Advisors may be located at the Max Planck Institute for Biology Tübingen, the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory or the University of Tübingen:

1 – Evolution of pigment patterning in Danio fish Advisor: Uwe Irion Location: Max Planck Institute for Biology Tübingen

Project description:
Pigment patterns are very conspicuous features of many animals. They serve a variety of different functions and are of great evolutionary significance, as direct targets of natural and sexual selection. Zebrafish, Danio rerio, which are widely used as model organisms in bio-medical research, show an invariant and conspicuous pattern of horizontal dark and light stripes on the flank and in the anal and tail fins.

The pattern is generated in the skin of the fish by three different types of pigment cells, dark melanophores, orange xanthophores and silvery or blue iridophores. Over the years a number of mutants have been collected that show aberrations in the stripe pattern. Several of the affected genes in these mutants encode membrane proteins, which are thought to be directly responsible for the patterning via cell-cell interactions.

Other Danio-species, which are closely related to zebrafish, show an even wider variety of different patterns; they range from stripes to different spots or bars. However, in all these species the different pigment patterns are generated by the same types of pigment cells. Therefore, this species group is an attractive model to study the evolution of pigment pattern formation in vertebrates.

We have established breeding colonies for a number of these different Danio-species in the laboratory and are now beginning to use them for experiments, including gene knock out with the CRISPR/Cas-System, generation of inter-species hybrids and chimeras. This allows us to identify differences and commonalities in the mechanisms that lead to the generation of the different patterns.

The project will be based on inter-species complementation tests in hybrid fish in combination with functional tests of candidate genes in several species. We can use the CRISPR/Cas system to address the question whether changes in coding sequences or in cis-regulatory regions are evolutionary relevant, and thus learn about the origins of biodiversity in this group of fish.

To apply

Application deadline: 16 August 2023

2 – Inference of Structure and Function of Biomolecular Complexes Advisor: Oliver Kohlbacher Location: University of Tübingen

Project description
Biomolecular interactions mediate almost all biological processes. Within the project, we are interested in developing large-scale computational models to understand protein-protein and protein-RNA interactions and the implied structure and function on the genome scale. The focus will be on machine learning methods to integrate experimental and computational data from different sources.

To apply

Application deadline: 16 August 2023

3 – Evolution and function of mini-chromosome encoded virulence proteins Advisor: Thorsten Langner Location: Max Planck Institute for Biology Tübingen

Plant pathogens constantly coevolve with their host plants to allow infection, which can have dramatic effect on crop yield and food security. Certain regions of pathogen genomes evolve at high rates to continuously overcome the plant immune system and manipulate metabolic and developmental processes in the host plant. This enables rapid adaptation of virulence related proteins to diverse host genotypes or species and ultimately leads to disease.

One driver of rapid adaptive evolution are genome rearrangements that can lead to copy number variations which further facilitate high evolutionary rates and affect the dosage of certain virulence related proteins. One peculiar type of these large-scale structural variations in the genome of the blast fungus Magnaporthe oryzae are mini-chromosomes. These are chromosomes that exist only in some individuals but that are absent in others.

We have recently discovered a diverse set of mini-chromosomes in wheat- and rice-infecting M. oryzae isolates that encode several virulence effector proteins. In this project we will study how these effector proteins evolve and interact with host target proteins to contribute to the aggressiveness of the blast fungus using a multidisciplinary approach including genetics, biochemistry, biophysics and structural biology. We will use this knowledge to redesign the plant immune system to provide resistance against the blast fungus.

To apply

Application deadline: 16 August 2023

4 – Mechanisms for dual distribution of proteins between peroxisomes and mitochondria Advisor: Doron Rapaport Location: University of Tübingen

Project description
We know very little about how proteins are distributed between two intracellular destinations – a process called dual targeting. We aim to shine mechanistic insight into the process of dual targeting, taking, as a model the abundant cases of dual targeting of proteins between the yeast mitochondria and peroxisomes. By uncovering the full spectrum of dual-targeted proteins, screening for the machinery factors that affects it, and biochemically dissecting the signals and components that guide it, our aim is to provide a novel understanding of this little understudied and important process.

To apply

Application deadline: 16 August 2023

5 – Symbiont proliferation and host regulation of an obligate partnership Advisor: Hassan Salem Location: Max Planck Institute for Biology Tübingen

Microbes are critical for the development of many animal groups. But that reliance can vary depending on the developmental stage of the host, and the metabolic factors supplemented by the symbiont. Despite that variation, little is known concerning how symbioses are maintained throughout the lifespan of an animal, the underlying factors behind temporal variation in symbiont abundance, and the mechanisms by which an animal regulates this process.

The envisioned project is contextualized through our work on leaf beetles and their nutritional partnership with bacterial symbionts. The successful applicant will combine high-resolution microscopy, transcriptional profiling, biochemical assays, and RNA interference to explain temporal variation in symbiont titers relative to the nutritional, developmental, and reproductive biology of its host. 

To apply

Application deadline: 16 August 2023

6- Crossroads of Genetic Diversity: Decoding DNA Repair Modulation in Meiosis Advisor: John Weir Location: Friedrich Miescher Laboratory

Meiotic recombination generates the incredible diversity of eukaryotic life on earth, and is at the heart of our own genetic individuality. In meiosis I, recombination of homologous chromosomes ensures essential physical linkage and reconfigures parental haplotypes. Although such linkages are deleterious in somatic cells, they are indispensable in the germline.

How is canonical DNA repair modified to produce crossovers? This project aims to unravel the enigmatic modification of canonical DNA repair during meiosis to facilitate crossovers. We will examine the interplay between meiosis-specific proteins and canonical DNA repair factors, building on our previous research (Altmannova, Firlej et al. 2023).

Utilising yeast genetics, proteomics, protein biochemistry, and structural biology, we will elucidate the modulation of meiotic DNA repair. This exploration will provide further insights into the unique genetic recombination mechanisms within meiosis.” Altmannova V, Firlej M, Müller F, Janning P, Rauleder R, Rousova D, Schäffler A, Bange T, Weir JR (2023) Biochemical characterisation of Mer3 helicase interactions and the protection of meiotic recombination intermediates. Nucleic Acids Research

To apply

Application deadline: 16 August 2023


The Researcher Support Team is here to provide information and guidance to current and prospective PhD students. If you have further questions after browsing our website, please do not hesitate to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sibylle Patheiger PhD Program Coordinator Contact Sibylle for information and support on all aspects of the PhD Programs.

Alejandra Duque Program Coordinator Contact Alejandra for information and support on all aspects of the PhD Programs.

Jeanette Müller Head of the Researcher Support Team & PhD Program Coordination Contact Jeanette for information and support on all aspects of the PhD Programs.

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