Central Institute for Molecular Biology

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The Central Institute for Molecular Biology (ZIM) was a non-university research institute of the Academy of Sciences of the GDR (AdW) that existed from January 1, 1972 to December 31, 1991 and was based in Berlin-Buch . Due to its size, its broad range of tasks and research orientation, as well as its staffing with renowned scientists, it assumed a leading position among the bioscientific and medical academy institutes in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The ZIM was thus of particular importance within the scientific research structures of the GDR. At the beginning of 1992, the institute became the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine as a major research facility in the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers .


Organizational development

The Central Institute of Molecular Biology was established at the beginning of 1972 as part of a structural reform of the previously existing Academy Institutes of Biochemistry , Biophysics , pharmacology and of cell physiology , consisting of departments of the company founded in July 1947 in October 1961 Institute of Medicine and Biology emerged were. In 1980 the institute received a newly built laboratory building. In addition, the institute had a computer center and a branch at the Central Institute for Nuclear Research, on whose premises the Helmholtz Center Dresden-Rossendorf is located today. In 1985 the "Clinical and Experimental Immunology" division, which had previously belonged to the Central Institute for Cancer Research , was incorporated into the ZIM .

The institute was assigned to the research program "Biosciences including the scientific principles of medicine" and, together with the other bioscientific and medical academy institutions, part of the Research Center for Molecular Biology and Medicine of the AdW. The areas of immunology and human genetics at the ZIM also belonged to the newly founded "Center for Medical Science at the Academy" from the beginning of 1989.

Tasks and activities

Due to the history of the institute's origins, research activities were diverse and included both basic bioscientific and medical research as well as application-oriented research and development . They concerned, for example, biocatalysis , drug research , the methodology and theory of biology , applied enzymology , cell physiology , molecular cell and human genetics , virology and biophysics . The institute was also involved in academic training through the participation of its professors and student internships in the institute.

The institute's staff in the 1980s included, for example, the molecular biologist and biomathematist Jens Reich , the chemist Frieder W. Scheller , the German-British human geneticist Charles Coutelle , who moved to Imperial College London after 1990 , and the German-American biochemist Tom Rapoport , who was appointed Professor of Cell Biology at Harvard University in 1995 . The oncologist Arnold Graffi , who was director of the Institute for Experimental Cancer Research until his retirement , was also active at ZIM like his student Heinz Bielka after he returned to active research in the early 1980s.


From 1972 to 1980 the director of the Central Institute for Molecular Biology was the pharmacologist Friedrich Jung , who had previously headed the Academy Institute for Pharmacology. His successor from 1981 to 1984 was the pathologist Karl-Wolfgang Zschiesche , who in 1979 moved from the Central Institute for Microbiology and Experimental Therapy in Jena to the ZIM. Due to illness, however, he was temporarily represented by Heinz Bielka from 1982 to 1984 . After Karl-Wolfgang Zschiesche left the institute , the immunologist Günter Pasternak headed the institute from 1984 until the end of 1991, after having previously worked as a division manager at the Central Institute for Cancer Research, also located in Berlin-Buch .

Structure and balance sheet 1989/1990

In 1989 the Central Institute for Molecular Biology had around 620 employees, including around 280 scientists. The institute's budget at the end of the 1980s comprised around 23 million GDR marks . About half of this came from GDR companies promoting application-oriented research with the aim of developing biotechnological processes and products for the GDR market. This corresponded to the state objective for the natural science academy institutes to finance around 50 percent of their activities through service contracts with industry.

With the establishment of the "Center for Medical Sciences" within the AdW in 1989, a reorientation of the institute was planned, which was only partially implemented due to the subsequent development. The aim was to further expand industry-related research , as had been aimed for and partially implemented by government guidelines since the mid-1980s. As a result, a separation of the bioscientific and medical research within the academy as far as possible was planned.

Successor organization

In the course of the structural changes after the political turnaround in 1989/1990 and German reunification , there was a significant reduction in the number of jobs and funds in the field of application-oriented research at the institute. From the Central Institute for Molecular Biology and the Central Institutes for Cancer Research and Cardiovascular Research, which are also located in Berlin-Buch , the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC), founded in early 1992, became a major research facility of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers .

In addition, the three institutes gave rise to the Robert Rössle Clinic, with a focus on surgery and surgical oncology as well as hematology, oncology and tumor immunology, and the Franz Volhard Clinic with a focus on molecular and clinical cardiology as well as nephrology and hypertensiology, which in the research activities of the MDC are integrated and until 2001 belonged to the Buch campus of the Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin . In 2001 the two clinics were incorporated into the Helios Clinic Berlin-Buch of the private Helios Group .

The Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (FMP), which has been in close proximity to the MDC since 1992 and is a member of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Scientific Association , also goes back in part to the ZIM. The FMP emerged from the Academy Institute for Active Ingredient Research, founded in 1976 and based in Berlin-Friedrichsfelde , whose areas of peptide and adaptation research had been spun off from the Central Institute for Molecular Biology. The founder of the Institute for Active Ingredient Research was the pharmacologist Peter Oehme , who had previously also worked at ZIM as a division manager and deputy director.


  • Rolf Andreas Zeil: Reinvented the wheel. GDR researchers fear for their future. In: The time. Issue 22 from May 25, 1990
  • The Central Institute for Molecular Biology (ZIM). In: Heinz Bielka : History of the medical-biological institutes Berlin-Buch. Second edition. Springer-Verlag, Berlin and Heidelberg 2002, ISBN 978-3-540-42842-8 , pp. 95-99
  • Günter Pasternak : Life Sciences and Medicine in the 1980s. In: Jürgen Kocka, Peter Nötzoldt, Peter Walther: The Berlin Academies of Sciences in Divided Germany 1945–1990. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-05-003544-7 , pp. 139-165
  • Luise Pasternak: Scientist in the biomedical research center Berlin-Buch 1930-2004. Publishing group Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2004, ISBN 3-631-52783-7