Alexander von Humboldt Professorship for Peter Baumann

Germany's best-endowed research prize is awarded to molecular biologist at Mainz University / Important contribution towards the realignment of the Faculty of Biology at JGU

9 May 2018

Molecular biologist Professor Peter Baumann of Mainz University received an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship. Germany's highest endowed research prize was presented yesterday by Anja Karliczeck, Federal Minister of Education and Research, and Professor Hans-Christian Pape, the President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, at an event held in Berlin. Baumann, who was born in Germany in 1969, was selected following his joint nomination by Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH (IMB). Backed by a EUR 5 million grant for five years, he became Professor of Molecular Biology at JGU in October 2017 and, in April 2018, Adjunct Director at IMB, which is located on the Gutenberg campus. Baumann previously held a professorship at the University of Kansas Medical Center as well as investigator posts at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research. He has received numerous awards, including the Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences Award in 2003 and the HHMI Early Career Scientist Award in 2009, and is a fellow of the JGU Gutenberg Research College.

Peter Baumann is one of the world's leading specialists in the field of chromosome biology. His research focuses on the vulnerable ends of chromosomes, known as telomeres, which are protected by the enzyme telomerase. Without functioning telomerase, chromosomes would become shorter each time mitosis occurs. At the same time, however, hyperactive telomerase is considered to be associated with tumor proliferation. Baumann discovered that telomeres are protected by a specific gene and was subsequently able to identify the relevant RNA component in fission yeast (Schizosaccharomyces pombe). He will continue with this research in Mainz with the aim of facilitating possible clinical studies into the aspects of premature cell aging and pathological growth. Another of Baumann's main fields of interest is the family of whiptail lizards that live in the desert of New Mexico and other locations. Certain species of this lizard consist entirely of females and their offspring is born from unfertilized egg cells. It is Baumann's intention to find out how genetic variety is maintained in these species despite the lack of an opposite sex.

Realigning the JGU Faculty of Biology

"The award of the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship to Peter Baumann represents a major boost towards developing Mainz as an international hub of biomedical research and is a great acknowledgment of the work of our university," said Professor Georg Krausch, President of JGU. "All the more so because in awarding Humboldt Professorships, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation does not only consider the nominees themselves but also their respective university environments and the potential there." The Faculty of Biology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz is currently undergoing a realignment going hand in hand with a generation change: 18 of the faculty's 23 professorship positions had to be filled recently. Thanks to the Humboldt Professorship Award, Peter Baumann took one of them. Moreover, the Faculty of Biology gave itself a new lean organizational structure with three institutes instead of the former eight. This profile enhancement is being augmented by the construction of two modern research buildings. BioCenter I, representing the first construction phase, is to be opened in June 2018; the groundbreaking ceremony for BioCenter II to be built in a second construction phase will take place at the same time. "We will provide our newly appointed professors with state-of-the-art laboratories equipped with the best scientific instruments," emphasized Krausch. "Furthermore, both buildings are located in the direct vicinity of the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB), other natural science institutes, and the biomedical research institutes of the Mainz University Medical Center. This will create a life sciences community on the JGU campus with only very short distances between the various institutes supporting the close collaboration between researchers and finally also contributing towards enhancing the visibility of the life sciences in Mainz."