When it came to finding a new Director of EMBO in 2010, the members of Council were determined to appoint an active researcher. Few can compete with the level of activity of Maria Leptin, a professor at the University of Cologne’s Institute of Genetics. As well as running research teams in both development and immunology, she has served on EMBO committees, including Council. She has been chair of a review panel of the Advanced Grants for the European Research Council since its inception in 2007.
Leptin is still somewhat surprised to find herself in an administrative role. ‘My whole life has been like that,’ she says. ‘I never did what I planned to do.’ She still runs her lab in Cologne, commuting back and forth from Heidelberg weekly.
Leptin did her PhD at the Institute of Immunology in Basel, where she used to go and listen to talks in molecular biology at the Biozentrum. Later, determined to shift fields, she did her research and made applications. ‘I ended up with someone to whom I hadn't applied, working on a subject that I had definitely excluded, just because I liked the lab and the project best,’ she says. She joined Mike Wilcox at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, using antibodies to study cell surface molecules during development in Drosophila.
Having determined on a group leader position in America, she ended up going to the Max Planck Institute in Tübingen. Leptin planned to go back to England, but was also offered a job in Cologne. At the University of Cologne, she helped establish the Graduate School for Biological Sciences and currently serves on its Executive Board.
Leptin is an EMBO Member since 1996. She joined EMBO Council in 2009, when the search for a new director was in full swing. And history repeated itself when she was asked to apply. ‘If someone asks me to do something I tend to do it,’ she says.
Now she also heads a group at EMBL, using the superb imaging facilities to study cell shape determination in Drosophila and innate immune responses in zebrafish. ‘One needs the science to stay sane - grounded in reality,’ she says.
Georgina Ferry Source: EMBO in perspective: A half century in the life sciences.
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