Leading expert in DNA damage signaling joins Institute of Molecular Biology at Mainz University as Scientific Director

Helle Ulrich complements related research initiatives at Mainz University


The Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) appoints Professor Helle Ulrich as its third Scientific Director. Ulrich is a world leader in the field of DNA damage tolerance. Her research group undertakes innovative studies into how genomes are maintained in a stable state in the face of a multitude of insults.

Our genomes are under constant attack from a wide variety of sources. These attacks come from the environment, such as ultraviolet radiation from the sun, or from chemicals in the food we eat and in the air we breathe. Additionally, our bodies also produce molecules that can damage our DNA. One of the mechanisms required to repair this damage and protect our cells from these threats is particularly active during genome duplication. This repair process needs to be tightly controlled, as incorrect activity can lead to the genome becoming unstable, which can result in diseases such as cancer. Professor Helle Ulrich investigates the involvement of two small proteins, ubiquitin and SUMO, in the regulation of DNA repair. These proteins function by attaching to other proteins and thus changing their properties. Ulrich has previously provided important insights into how such modifications of proteins can govern the efficiency and accuracy of DNA damage processing during genome duplication. In recognition of her research achievements, she was elected as a member of the prestigious European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in 2008.

Professor Helle Ulrich joins IMB from the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute’s Clare Hall Laboratories and has previously worked at the University of California Berkeley in the United States and the Max Planck Institutes for Biochemistry and Terrestrial Microbiology in Munich and Marburg. She will be taking up her appointment at IMB in January 2013. Professor Dr. Christof Niehrs, IMB's Founding Director, is excited about Ulrich joining the Institute of Molecular Biology: "Professor Helle Ulrich brings outstanding expertise in an area that is central to research at IMB. Moreover, her work perfectly complements related research initiatives at other institutes in Mainz. This will further increase the international visibility of the region as a hub for research into DNA damage."

In addition to becoming a Director at IMB, Ulrich will also be appointed as professor within the Faculty of Biology at Mainz University. "We are enthusiastic about Professor Helle Ulrich moving to Mainz. As an internationally leading expert on the DNA damage response, she will make sure Mainz is at the forefront of this rapidly developing and important field of the modern Life Sciences," stated Professor Dr. Georg Krausch, President of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.

"We are thrilled that such a renowned scientist will be joining IMB. Professor Helle Ulrich's appointment adds to IMB's international visibility and marks an important step on its way to becoming a first-rate location for biomedical basic research," said Otto Boehringer, Chairman of the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation.

About the Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH

The Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH (IMB) is a center of excellence in the life sciences that was established in 2011 on the campus of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). Research at IMB concentrates on three cutting-edge areas: epigenetics, developmental biology, and genome stability. The institute is a prime example of a successful collaboration between public authorities and a private foundation. The Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation has dedicated EUR 100 million for a period of ten years to cover the operating costs for research at IMB, while the state of Rhineland-Palatinate provided approximately EUR 50 million for the construction of a state-of-the-art building.

About the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation

The Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization committed to the promotion of the medical, biological, chemical, and pharmaceutical sciences. It was established in 1977 by Hubertus Liebrecht (1931-1991), a member of the shareholder family of the company Boehringer Ingelheim. With the PLUS 3 Perspectives Program and the Exploration Grants, the foundation supports independent group leaders. It also endows the internationally renowned Heinrich Wieland Prize as well as awards for up-and-coming scientists. In addition, the foundation pledged to donate EUR 100 million to finance the scientific running of the IMB at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz for ten years. In 2013, the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation donated a further EUR 50 million to Mainz University.