Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz obtains approval for Humboldt Professorship in Biology

Chromosome researcher Peter Baumann to become Professor of Molecular Biology and Adjunct Director at IMB contributing to the restructuring of the discipline of biology at Mainz University


Nominated by Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH (IMB), chromosome researcher Professor Peter Baumann has been awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship, which comes with the best endowed research grant in Germany. Baumann is an internationally renowned expert in the field of chromosome biology and is currently working in the United States of America as a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City. Every year since 2008, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation has awarded up to ten professorships to top level international researchers to pursue groundbreaking research at universities and research institutions in Germany. Academics working in experimental research receive EUR 5 million in financing over the first five years. When nominating a candidate, the universities also submit a concept on how they intend to continue to fund this professorship after this period.

In his research, Professor Peter Baumann investigates two fundamental aspects of chromosome biology, namely the architecture and dynamics of the chromosome ends and the passing on of genetic information. Both aspects have enormous consequences for the maintenance of genome stability and genetic diversity. Baumann will continue to work in these research areas as Professor of Molecular Biology at the Faculty of Biology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and also as Adjunct Director of the Institute of Molecular Biology.

"The acquisition of this Alexander von Humboldt Professorship by Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz again confirms that the German federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate is an internationally visible and attractive location for life science research. Top-level research and innovation proven continuously over the years form the basis for the reputation of this region, not just when it comes to fundamental life sciences research but also in application-based research. We intend to promote and extend both these areas in future," emphasized Professor Konrad Wolf, the Minister of Science, Continuing Education, and Culture of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

"The approval of this Humboldt Professorship represents exceptional recognition of our efforts to restructure and further develop the biological research fields at the university," announced Professor Georg Krausch, President of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. "Professor Baumann's appointment will augment our fundamental biological and biomedical research in key areas and form a direct link with the work being done at IMB." Krausch also pointed out that this is already the third Humboldt Professorship that has been obtained by JGU over a mere four year period. In 2012, a Humboldt Professorship was granted to blood coagulation researcher Professor Wolfram Ruf of the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, USA, who then relocated to the Mainz University Medical Center, another went in 2013 to theoretical physicist Professor Jairo Sinova, who transferred to Mainz from Texas A&M University in the USA.

Professor Peter Baumann’s research focuses on the fragile ends of chromosomes. These are protected by complex structures called telomeres and can be reconstituted by the enzyme called telomerase. Without appropriately functioning telomeres, chromosomes can become progressively shorter with each new cell division. At the same time, however, elevated telomerase activity is believed to be responsible for the metastasis of cancer cells. While he uses fission yeast and human cell culture for his work in this field, Baumann's second core research area concerns the investigation of the unique features of whiptail lizards. Some of the species in this family have all-female populations and reproduce by means of parthenogenesis. The surprising thing about these reptiles is that they are able to maintain genetic diversity, thus enabling them to survive changes to the environment. It is the molecular and cellular principles at work here that Baumann hopes to better understand.

"The Alexander von Humboldt Professorship and the appointment of Professor Peter Baumann to the Faculty of Biology at JGU will allow us to pursue a two-pronged strategy. One aim is to foster the life sciences disciplines here in Mainz to ensure we become trailblazers in the field of telomere biology. In addition, we will assign Professor Baumann an active role in the integration of complementary research topics and groups, thus creating the basis to enable us to acquire third-party funding for coordinated projects," added the Dean of the Faculty of Biology Faculty, Professor Hans Zischler.

"We are absolutely delighted that Peter Baumann has been awarded this prestigious professorship and look forward to welcoming him to IMB," emphasized Professor René Ketting, IMB Executive Director. "His ground-breaking research in chromosome biology will be a great asset to Mainz and help strengthen the growing expertise here in this exciting area of biology."

Once contract negotiations have been successfully completed, it is likely that Baumann will take up his work at JGU and IMB in the coming year. Interdisciplinary cooperation with other life sciences groups at the Mainz University Medical Center is also planned.

The Faculty of Biology is currently experiencing a generational shift among its professors. Thus, the strategy for appointing new professors can be used to achieve a major re-orientation of its work. This opportunity will be used to create focal research areas in groundbreaking fields, to combine resources, and to supplement available skills by means of targeted new appointments. The appointment of Professor Peter Baumann to an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship at JGU epitomizes this strategy.

The Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH (IMB) is an excellence center for life sciences founded in 2011. Research at IMB concentrates on three areas of current interest: epigenetics, developmental biology, and genome stability.