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2004-2013: Patrick Cramer

Interview with Patrick Cramer about his time as Director of the Gene Center

What were the highlights during your time as director of the Gene Center?Patrick Cramer

I was serving for ten years so of course there were many. A few things that come to mind: In 2006, the year of the soccer world championship in Germany, we won a competition and became “Ort der Ideen” (place of ideas). We organized a big event hosting prime minister Edmund Stoiber (who was late by 40 minutes as he was on the phone with chancellor Angela Merkel). In 2009 we celebrated our 25th anniversary and I think this was when we unreveled the big DNA artwork in the foyer. For our 5-year-evaluation at Wildbad-Kreuth we discussed with our scientific advisory board until 3 am in the morning. The board included people like Iain Mattaj, Director-general of EMBL or Kai Simmons, founding director of the MPI in Dresden, and made critical suggestions. Another highlight was that we got funding for a new building we called “Center for Molecular Biosystems”. This was the time when sequencing methods had matured and systems biology got started. We were very successful in the national initiative for excellence in research, which included the foundation of the Center for Integrative Protein Science Munich (CIPSM). As a consequence, we expanded from 158 to over 300 people, and needed space!

What did you personally appreciate most about the Gene Center?

The scientific independence and the spirit. I was 32 years old when I arrived but was allowed to do it all independently. Luckily, I had great mentors, Rudi Grosschedl and later Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker. Karl-Peter Hopfner and I had returned from the USA and we brought with us this “Yes, we can” attitude (although we were in California during Clinton times and Obama was much later of course!). We worked extremely hard to set up labs and cutting-edge research projects. What was also critical was the collaborative spirit, the flat hierarchies with independent groups and the many excellent students we could attract. I also appreciated the variety of topics, ranging from animal models to virology and later even Computational Biology.

biosysm_grundsteinIs there an anecdote from this time that you particularly remember?

Not just one, as you can imagine. Talking about Computational Biology: We knew we had to establish this new research field quickly but there was no space anymore. So we decided to take out all books and journals from the library. We simply did it one day with the help of students. Books that were valuable we distributed to other places and the many duplicates of journals that you find also at the official libraries on campus were trashed into big containers in front of the main entrance. Then we just ordered desks and chairs and Computational Biology was born. Some key research was done in the old library!

What do you wish the Gene Center for its future?

I am so happy to see the Gene Center continues to be leading in research and training. I was also very happy to see excellent recruitments under the leadership of Karl-Peter Hopfner. Getting the right PIs is critical and also enables you to develop. Innate immunity, molecular medicine, complex genetics – all exciting new areas. So my wish is simply that – over the next 40 years until 2064 – the Gene Center stays at the forefront of science by remaining to be ambitious and by continuing to take risks. It is all about getting the right people and letting them follow their interests. They will attract good coworkers, engage in interesting collaborative projects and will bring in money and obtain results. And eventually strong science will also lead to patents, new applications and start-ups. This was the idea from the start, implemented by Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker in the 1980s and 1990s, and it is still valid.