Gregor Mendel Institute

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The Gregor Mendel Institute of Molecular Plant Biology (GMI) was founded by the Austrian Academy of Sciences in 2000 to promote research excellence in the area of molecular plant biology. It is one of the few institutes worldwide that focuses on basic research using plants. Research at the GMI is curiosity driven and covers many aspects of molecular genetics, including basic mechanisms of epigenetics, population genetics, chromosome biology, developmental biology, stress signal transduction and plant pathogens. Arabidopsis thaliana is the primary model organism used although other organisms are also studied. The GMI is located in the Vienna Biocenter Campus within the purpose-built Austrian Academy of Sciences Life Sciences Center. The institute is named after Gregor Mendel, the ‘father of genetics’, who studied at the University of Vienna in the middle of the 19th century.


The making of an institute

The Gregor Mendel Institute was founded on the initiative of the Presidency of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and Dr Dieter Schweizer. The location was planned for the Vienna Biocenter, with a focus on basic research in molecular plant biology, as complement to the research of the neighboring campus institutes (Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) and the biomedical Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA), also of the Austrian Academy of Sciences). Establishing an institute in molecular plant biology in an environment where public opinion was against plant research due to the negative influence of the ongoing GM-food debate was an uphill task. However, following the recommendation of an ad-hoc International Scientific Advisory Committee set up by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, it became official: The new institute was to be a plant research centre, the first of its kind in Austria.

After his appointment as founding director in November 2000, Dr Schweizer met Boris Podrecca, a well-known Viennese architect, who had just won a competition announced by the Austrian Academy of Sciences for the new IMBA building. The City of Vienna generously provided additional building ground for the GMI, allowing an extension of the Podrecca concept to house both GMI and IMBA. It was decided that the GMI with its glasshouses and plant growth facilities should be located above IMBA rather than as an adjacent unit.

In 2003, the GMI employed its first researchers, the first group leader a young Czech cell biologist, Karel Riha. In 2004, the GMI welcomed two new research groups: Dr Marjori Matzke and Dr Antonius Matzke (Academy Institute of Molecular Biology, Salzburg, Austria), who were temporarily housed at the Pharmacy Center of the University of Vienna; and Dr Ortrun Mittelsten Scheid (Friedrich Miescher Institute, Basel, Switzerland), whose group was temporarily hosted by the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences (BOKU Wien). In 2005 and 2006 four additional research groups were established. At the end of 2005 the Austrian Academy of Sciences Life Sciences Center was completed, and in 2006 the six GMI research groups moved from their five temporary locations in Vienna to the new premises.

Dieter Schwiezer retired as Director in 2007, and Dr Ortrun Mittelsten Scheid was appointed Interim Director during the search for a new Director. In January 2009, Dr Magnus Nordborg, an internationally-renowned population and quantitative geneticist, was appointed the new Director. At that time Nordborg was an Associate Professor at the University of Southern Californina in Los Angeles.

Current Research Activities[1][edit]

Senior Research Groups[edit]

Frederic Berger - Chromatin architecture and function - More than a simple scaffold for the DNA, the conserved proteins histones participate to regulations of genome activities. We explore how variants of core histones impact on genome expression, organization and inheritance. We also study interactions between histone variants with other chromatin modifications, contributing epigenetic landscapes that modulate cellular events in somatic and reproductive tissues.

Magnus Nordborg - Population genetics - The central theme of the group is the genetic basis of adaptation. A combination of empirical and theoretical approaches from population genetics and related areas, such as statistical genetics and molecular evolution, are used. Empirical research focuses on Arabidopsis thaliana but we work on a wide range of organisms, including primates.

Ortrun Mittelsten Scheid - Epigenetic changes in plants - Epigenetic changes contribute significantly to diversity in gene expression and, thereby, to adaptation potential. Using the model plant Arabidopsis, the group investigates chromatin, gene expression, inheritance and natural variation in response to stress treatments and upon genome duplication in polyploids.

Junior Research Groups[edit]

Wolfgang Busch - Regulation of root development in Arabidopsis - The major research focus is to identify regulatory networks that underlie developmental processes of a complex organ, the Arabidopsis root, using a novel approach of combining high throughput confocal microscope imaging of whole roots with genome-wide association study (GWAS).

Armin Djamei - Effectomics: exploring the toolbox of plant pathogens - Biotrophic fungi colonize living host tissue and are therefore masters in manipulating the immune defense responses, metabolism and development of their host plants. The focus of our research is to elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms of biotrophy in the model pathosystems Ustilago maydis/Maize and Ustilago bromivora/Brachypodium. In an integrative approach we functionally explore the effectome (pathogen derived secreted manipulative molecules) to gain insights into the targeted host metabolic processes and to understand the critical needs of the pathogens.

Thomas Greb - Development of vascular tissue in plants - Secondary growth in plants is essential for the formation of extended shoot and root systems, and, thus, for the creation of biomass on earth. The lab uses this process as an example to study cell fate regulation in multicellular organisms.

Claudia Jonak - Stress signal transduction and cellular responses - How do plants cope with the constantly changing environment? The group aims to understand the basic mechanisms underlying adaptation processes that are necessary for withstanding unfavorable growth conditions. The laboratory takes an integrative, systems-oriented approach to link stress signal transduction with physiological reactions.

Michael Nodine - Small RNA functions in plant embryos - MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are a class of small regulatory RNAs that are essential for plant embryo development. Our major goal is to understand how miRNAs shape the gene regulatory networks that control plant embryogenesis. We are using a combination of cutting-edge experimental and computational approaches to achieve this aim.

Karel Riha - Telomeres and genome stability - Chromosome integrity and the proper partitioning of the genome to daughter cells are essential prerequisites for the stable inheritance of genetic information over multiple cell divisions. The group's two main research interests are the molecular mechanisms that govern the stability of chromosome ends and the regulation of chromosome behavior during meiosis.

Hisashi Tamaru - Control of chromatin fates in pollen - Constitutive heterochromatin is involved in multiple chromosomal processes including silencing of repetitive DNA and chromosome segregation. The group has found global centromeric heterochromatin decondensation in Arabidopsis pollen, which evokes a new aspect of constitutive heterochromatin. They aim to isolate genes involved in this process.


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