Maria Leptin received her PhD in 1983 for work on B cell activation carried out at the Basel Institute for Immunology, Switzerland. She studied the development of Drosophila as a postdoc at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge, UK. She spent 1989-1994 as a group leader at the Max Planck Institute in Tübingen, Germany and became Professor at the Institute of Genetics, University of Cologne, in 1994. She spent extended research periods and sabbatical visits at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), USA, the École normale supérieure in Paris, France, and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute at Hinxton, UK. In January 2010, Maria Leptin was appointed Director of EMBO, a post she held until 2021, and led a research group at the at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). In November 2021, she was appointed President of the European Research Council. Maria Leptin is an elected member of EMBO, the Academia Europaea, the German National Academy, Leopoldina, the European Academy of Sciences, an Honorary Fellow of the UK Academy of Medical Sciences, a Foreign Member of the Royal Society and a Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Maria Leptin studies the mechanisms and forces that determine cell shape in Drosophila and uses zebrafish to analyse innate immune signalling. Cell shape determination during development: The shape of a developing organism is generated by the activities of its constituent cells: growth and proliferation, movements, and shape changes. The group is particularly interested in how the forces generated by individual cells are integrated within the supracellular organisation of the whole organism to give tissues their final shapes. They study two process, epithelial folding in the early Drosophila embryo, and subcellular morphogenesis in an extremely complex single cell, the highly branched, oxygen-delivering terminal cell of the Drosophila tracheal system. In vivo imaging of innate immune responses: The innate immune system provides rapid defence against pathogens and also deals with non-pathogenic stresses. Fish model systems allow in vivo observation of physiological processes. Specifically, the Leptin lab watches pathogens and the cells that attack them. They use in vivo fluorescent reporters, such as the inflammasome component ASC, and optogenetic tools to assay immune and stress responses in real time and at high spatial and temporal resolution as the cells of the fish encounter pathogens and stress signals.

Membership Type

International Member

Election Year


Primary Section

Section 22: Cellular and Developmental Biology