iMed Competitions | Maria Leptin

The Innovate Competition is an yearly iMed Conference® designed to promote and award the work of young scientists, both in basic and translational research.

Thanks to her biology teacher, Maria Leptin took an interest in biology during high school; as such, after first considering becoming an interior decorator and then a dancer, she took a degree in biology and mathematics with the goal of becoming a teacher. However, after realizing she couldn’t stand the idea of going to school for another 40 years, she remembered an immunology class she took, which she had found to be intellectually stimulating, and decided to become a researcher.

Since she had enjoyed immunology more than other areas, she decided to do her PhD in B-cell activation, getting her degree in 1983 at the University of Heidelberg. After her PhD, she switched fields, and, from 1984 to 1987, she did her postdoc on the developmental biology of Drosophila.

After a research visit at the University of California, San Francisco, in 1988, where she began studying gastrulation, she joined the Max-Planck-Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen, as group research leader from 1989 to 1994, uncovering some of the pathways that regulate tissue differentiation and morphology during Drosophila development. During her stay in Tübingen, she successfully fought for the establishment of a daycare facility for children, which turned into reality in March 1992, with the help of Professor Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (who would, 3 years later, be a Nobel laureate) and another colleague. She is currently in the board of directors of the Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard-Foundation, founded in 2004, an organization which provides financial grants to pay for assistance in household chores and for additional childcare, aiming to relieve young female scientists from household tasks.

In 1994, Professor Maria Leptin was offered a professorship in the Institute of Genetics at the University of Cologne; her initial work focused on gastrulation and later in Drosophila’s tracheal cells and the pathways that direct their branching morphogenesis to create the tracheal respiratory system. After a “little scientific midlife crisis” and happening to hear an interesting observation related to disease resistance on zebrafish, Professor Maria now also focuses her research on the zebrafish as a model to understand pathogen resistance as well.

After fifteen years at the University of Cologne, Professor Maria Leptin decided to embrace a new challenge, becoming the director of European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO), one of the most prestigious science organisations in Europe. She was the first woman to have been given the directorship of EMBO. While she now spends less time in her laboratories, as director of EMBO, Professor Maria Leptin now supports and coordinates a network of top international researchers, besides being on the editorial boards of Developmental Cell, Developmental Biology and on advisory boards of several academic institutions.

At iMed Conference® 8.0, on her lecture “Scientific Publishing – What Is Next?”, Professor Maria Leptin will share her knowledge and expertise on where the world of scientific publishing is heading.


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