New Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence, in foundation

The MPI of Neurobiology and the MPI for Ornithology will merge to form a new institute as of January 1st 2022

December 07, 2021

The new "Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence" will investigate the strategies that living organisms employ to solve problems, pursue goals and exploit niches, across all time scales and levels of biological organization. The goal of the new institute is to understand how animal behavior is determined by evolution and development, and how this is implemented by the neuronal circuits of the brain.

With the approval of the Senate of the Max Planck Society on November 19th, 2021, the cornerstone for the new institute was laid. As of January 1st 2022, the MPI of Neurobiology (MPIN) in Martinsried and the MPI for Ornithology (MPIO) in Seewiesen will operate as a new, joint "MPI for Biological Intelligence, in foundation" with all members of staff and groups. The legal foundation of the new institute is expected to take place one year later. The current locations in Martinsried and Seewiesen remain. The Martinsried campus will be developed into a future-oriented and sustainable campus over the coming years with generous support from the Free State of Bavaria.

Pioneering spirit in opening up a new field of research

Both the MPI for Ornithology (MPIO) and the MPI of Neurobiology (MPIN) look back on many decades of excellent research. Based on various scientific and structural considerations, the advantages of a merger of the two institutes have increasingly crystallized since 2020. The new, significantly larger institute combines behavioral ecology, evolutionary research and neuroscience.

The merger will enable the researchers to combine efficiently their different methods and technologies. The resulting synergies will provide impetus for the development of new and enhanced methods for field and laboratory research, with the aim to open up new research areas and questions.

Over the next few years, further research departments will be added, expanding and remodeling the scientific portfolio of the new institute. “The progressive development of artificial intelligence highlights the need to understand intelligence in its natural complexity. After all, strategies that living systems use to solve problems and actively pursue goals are still largely unknown to us. The Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence will close this gap, across all levels of biological organization,” says Manfred Gahr, director at the Seewiesen site.  

Martinsried Campus as a lighthouse of European research

The modern and at the same time nature-orientated location in Seewiesen in the district of Starnberg will be maintained and remodeled into a center for field research as part of the new institute’s research mission. At the same time, the MPI for Biological Intelligence in Martinsried and its neighboring MPI of Biochemistry form the two pillars of a new Life Science Campus. The Max Planck Society (MPG) plans to expand and further develop basic research in Martinsried into a flagship beyond Germany and Europe. Politics already gave the green light on April 29th 2021, when Minister President Markus Söder and MPG President Martin Stratmann signed a Memorandum of Understanding providing for funding of 500 million Euros from the State of Bavaria. “We want to maintain and strengthen this 'innovation pipeline',” the Bavarian Minister President affirmed. For more information on this signing event, please see the MPG press release.

Outlook to an exciting time

As with the former institutes, the board of directors will lead the new institute, taking turns as the institute’s Managing Director. Like his colleagues, the first Managing Director of the institute, Tobias Bonhoeffer, regards also the construction plans as a great opportunity for the scientific community: “Due to the outdated buildings and modern requirements, new buildings must be erected in Martinsried. It is important to us that the new campus aligns with our values. For us, as a matter of principle, the new campus should thus be constructed and operated as climate-neutral as possible.” The large-scale project in the southwest of Munich is expected to continue through 2030. “By then, many employees from Martinsried will surely have spent time in Seewiesen and vice versa,” says Tobias Bonhoeffer. “We are looking forward to working closely together with our colleagues. This merger is a unique and timely opportunity.”

About the institutes

The new Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence, in foundation: On January 1st 2022, the institute will emerge from the MPI for Ornithology and the MPI of Neurobiology, which will legally continue to exist for another year. Together, the approximately 490 employees from 53 nations devote themselves to the study of biological intelligence – the evolved ability of animals to cope with a constantly changing environment and to find ever-new solutions to life’s challenges. The research takes place at the two institute locations in Martinsried and Seewiesen and, in the case of field research, at various other locations worldwide.

The Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology: Building on a successful history primarily in molecular and cellular neuroscience, the MPI of Neurobiology has become one of the leading centers for the study 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 an improved understanding neuronal structures in connection with the function in the nervous system and the behavior of the organism.

The Max Planck Institute for Ornithology: The Max Planck Institute for Ornithology is world renowned for combining field studies and laboratory-based approaches to behavioral research. The institute is the successor to the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology, where the emerging field of ethology arose in the early 1950s and where the later Nobel Prize laureate Konrad Lorenz conducted his research. As in the past, scientists at the institute continue to do pioneering work in the fields of neuroethology, behavioral ecology or evolutionary genetics, among others. Important innovations of the institute are the development of various telemetric methods, which allow a largely undisturbed recording of the behavior of animals in their natural habitat. The miniaturization of radio transmitters for recording vocal and brain activity made it possible for the first time to conduct detailed neuroethological studies in the field. 

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