Gregor Mendel Institute - History


The making of an institute

It was during a trip to the National Academy of Sciences in Argentina, in September 2000, that Dr Dieter Schweizer received a telephone call from Peter Schuster, at the time vice president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW), asking him whether he would accept an appointment as founding director of a new international research institution tentatively called IZEB – Institut für Zell- und Entwicklungsbiologie (Institute for Cell and Developmental Biology) to be established at the Campus Vienna Biocenter. On advice from colleagues it was decided to focus the new institute on basic research in molecular plant biology as this would complement the research activities of the neighboring institutes at the campus, the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) and the newly established biomedical Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Establishing an institute in the area of molecular plant biology within an environment where public opinion was set against plant research due to the negative influence of the ongoing GM-food debate was not going to be an easy task. However, following the recommendation of an ad hoc International Scientific Advisory Committee, set up in January 2001 by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, it was official: The new institute was to be a plant research centre, the first of its kind in Austria.

Soon after his appointment as foundation director of the GMI in November 2000, Schweizer met Boris Podrecca, the illustrious architect, who that year had won an international planning competition announced by the Austrian Academy of Sciences for the new IMBA research building (a director for IMBA was still being sought). The City of Vienna generously provided additional building ground for GMI that allowed an extension of the Podrecca concept to house both GMI and IMBA. After an intense planning period, and with the help of the architect Helmut Schuch from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, it was decided that the GMI with its glasshouses and plant growth facilities should be located above IMBA rather than as a separate unit adjacent to it. The resulting joint ‘IMBA-GMI’ building would allow a horizontal rather than a vertical organization of the institutes and would lower the construction and running costs. Just before Christmas 2000, at Vienna’s City Hall, it was decided that Boris Podrecca would plan an ensemble of a huge laboratory complex along Dr. Bohr-Gasse in Vienna’s third district, consisting of IMBA and GMI on a 2800 m2 site, and the Vienna Biocenter 2 laboratory building on an adjacent 1200 m2 site.

In 2003, the GMI employed its first researchers – the first appointment was of a brilliant young Czech cell biologist, Karel Riha. In 2004, the GMI welcomed two new research groups: Marjori and Antonius Matzke (Academy Institute of Molecular Biology, Salzburg, Austria), who moved into a temporary laboratory at the Pharmacy Center of the University of Vienna; and Ortrun Mittelsten Scheid (Friedrich Miescher Institute, Basel, Switzerland), whose group was kindly hosted by the Center of Applied Genetics of the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences (BOKU Wien). In 2005 and 2006 four additional research groups established.

The end of 2005 was marked by the completion of the Austrian Academy of Sciences Life Sciences Center Vienna, and by the move of six GMI research groups from five different locations in Vienna to their new premises.

Dieter Schwiezer retired as Director of the GMI in 2007. Dr Ortrun Mittelsten Scheid was subsequently appointed Interim Director while an international search for a new Director took place. In January 2009, Dr Magnus Nordborg, an internationally-renowned population and quantitative geneticist was appointed the new Director. At that time Nordborg was an Associate Professor at the University of Southern Californina in Los Angeles.

In January 2011 an additional research group was established.

Read more about this topic:  Gregor Mendel Institute

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