The Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens (MPUSP) is an independent institute of the Max Planck Society. MPUSP was founded in 2018 by to strengthen fundamental research on pathogens (bacteria and viruses) causing diseases in humans. The institute is located on the Campus Charité Mitte in Berlin.

The mission of MPUSP is to achieve a  better understanding of the complexities of pathogens (bacteria and viruses) and their interactions with their natural environment by developing innovative approaches. Belonging to the prestigious Max Planck Society, MPUSP offers an interactive and dynamic environment where our team of international and creative scientists are provided ongoing support to take on original research projects and answer free-minded basic biological questions. MPUSP operates in a unique mode of cooperation between the administration, management and research. Our scientists benefit from a state-of-the-art infrastructure, integrative and custom-designed research platforms and a wide range of scientific activities. MPUSP emphasizes personal development: junior and senior scientists at MPUSP are engaged in research, but also take active part in scientific education, mentoring and teaching, and in the management and development of the institute.    

A greater understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of regulation in pathogens (bacteria and viruses) is critical to generate new findings in basic science and possibly translate them into novel and transformative biotechnological and biomedical applications (e.g. genome editing tools, anti-infective strategies). A successful example of the application of our basic research in biotechnology and medicine is our recent discovery of an RNA-guided DNA cleavage mechanism that has been harnessed as an RNA programmable genome engineering technology and that stems from our research on the CRISPR-Cas9 adaptive immune system against bacteriophages (viruses of bacteria) in bacterial pathogens, especially Streptococcus pyogenes. This discovery is revolutionizing life sciences research and is opening whole new opportunities in biomedical gene therapies among other opportunities that are impacting society and humanity. The field of CRISPR-Cas applications continues to develop at dazzling speed, with exciting new developments emerging almost weekly.

MPUSP focuses on fundamental mechanisms of regulation in processes of infection and immunity with a focus on Gram-positive bacterial human pathogens. Our scientists are interested in understanding how RNAs and proteins control cellular processes on the transcriptional, post-transcriptional and post-translational level. We study regulatory RNAs and proteins in various biological pathways, such as horizontal gene transfer, adaptation to stress, physiology, persistence, virulence, infection and immunity. In particular, we investigate interference systems in the defense against viruses and genetic elements (CRISPR-Cas), small regulatory RNAs that interfere with pathogenic processes, protein quality control that regulates bacterial adaptation, physiology and virulence, basic principles of DNA replication and its role for life and on bacterial, and vesicular interactions with the human host innate immunity.

Scientists at MPUSP employ an interdisciplinary approach based on a combination of cutting-edge – bioinformatics, omics, genetics, molecular, biochemical, physiological, and cell infection  – methodologies to identify new molecules and decipher their origins, functions and modes of action at the molecular and cellular level. A pathogen mostly studied in the laboratory is S. pyogenes also called Group A streptococcus that can cause highly aggressive invasive infections such as toxic shock and necrotizing diseases. In the past years, we have investigated the genetics and biology of Listeria monocytogenesStaphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae. We also study Bacillus subtilis as a model organism. More recently, we have developed a line of research focused on the understanding of the interactions between the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-Cov-2) and human cells.

“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, and determines your destiny.” Aristotle (384-322 BC)