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Department of Comparative Development and Genetics at Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research

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Welcome to the homepage of our department that started its activities in 2013 with the relocation of the Director Miltos Tsiantis from the University of Oxford. We seek to address two fundamental questions in biology: how do biological forms develop and what is the basis for their diversity? To address these questions we first aim to elucidate how genotypes are translated into organismal forms through the process of morphogenesis. Secondly, we seek to conceptualize how the balance of conservation versus divergence in morphogenetic regulatory networks yields different organismal forms during evolution. We approach these problems using genetics, while also employing biological imaging, genomics and computational modelling. We believe that working at the interface of these areas will allow us to attain a predictive understanding of how biological forms develop and diversify.

Our research programme is empowered by the use of Cardamine hirsuta (Hairy bittercress), a common weed we developed as a model system for studies in evolution of development. C. hirsuta is related to the reference plant Arabidopsis thaliana (Thale cress) and, like A. thaliana, is amenable to both forward and reverse genetics approaches, including efficient transgenesis. However, C. hirsuta and A. thaliana differ in key morphological traits, including leaf shape, shoot branching, floral structure and fruit development, so comparative studies between these two species can greatly enrich our knowledge of the molecular mechanisms driving evolution of form. The analysis of both induced and natural variation within this comparative framework, coupled with broader phylogenetically informed studies across seed plants, will help us to understand the genetic basis for evolutionary change.

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