Strengthening ties with the Max Planck Society

The year 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of Japan–Germany relations as well as the centennial of the Max Planck Society (MPG), an important international partner for RIKEN.

RIKEN President Ryoji Noyori (left) and RIKEN ASI Director Kohei Tamao (right) with MPG President Peter Gruss (center).

In anticipation of the important year, RIKEN and the MPG have been working toward further deepening the cultural and scientific interaction between the two organizations and countries. RIKEN and the MPG have been cooperating in a diverse range of fields including physics, chemistry and biology for more than a quarter century since they first entered into a collaborative agreement in June 1984.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of their cooperation, the two organizations held a joint conference on 21–23 January 2009 at the MPG administrative headquarters in Munich, covering their collaborations in the three fields of physics, materials science and the life sciences. At this conference it was decided that an invaluable global resource for chemical compounds could be created by combining two chemical compound banks led by Hiroyuki Osada and Herbert Waldmann, respectively.

On 19 January 2010, RIKEN President Ryoji Noyori and Kohei Tamao, director of the RIKEN Advanced Science Institute (ASI), visited MPG President Peter Gruss in Germany. During this visit, it was decided that the cooperative ties between the two organizations should be strengthened and developed, and to this end a Memorandum of Understanding was signed for research collaboration in the field of systems chemical biology. This MoU led to research involving the exchange of researchers and students, and in February 2010 a RIKEN–Max Planck joint research team was created in preparation for the later establishment of a joint research center.

As discussions on the proposed joint research center progressed, it became clear that significant breakthroughs in glycobiology could be achieved through collaboration between the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, headed by Peter Seeberger and known for its automated oligosaccharide synthesis technology, and the RIKEN ASI's Systems Glycobiology Research Group, headed by Naoyuki Taniguchi. It was then decided to create a joint research center that would support and foster the expected synergetic effect of these two groups working together and sharing information.

As a fruit of these efforts, on 27 April 2011, Presidents Noyori and Gruss signed an agreement to strengthen collaboration between the two institutions by establishing a joint research center for systems chemical biology, a field that seeks to achieve a systematic understanding of biological systems from a chemistry perspective.

The joint research center will bring together two libraries—the RIKEN ASI’s natural chemical compounds bank (NPDepo), and the biology oriented synthesis library, BIOS, of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Physiology in the Department of Chemical Biology, under the leadership of Herbert Waldmann. The goal is to create one of the world’s leading chemical compound banks for both synthetic and natural compounds.

The agreement also calls for strengthening the ongoing collaboration on disease glycomics and oligosaccharide synthesis.

By bringing together their complementary technology and experience and working in close collaboration, RIKEN and the MPG hope to transcend the boundaries between different research fields to achieve a comprehensive understanding of life phenomena. It is also hoped that the resulting exchange of personnel, both young researchers and students, will foster the development of the next generation of scientists.