Center for Molecular Medicine Cologne

Professor Maria Leptin to become president of the European Research Council


The European Research Council is among the most important European institutions promoting pioneering research. Biologist Maria Leptin will become the new Chair of the ERC’s Scientific Council.

Professor Maria Leptin

Professor Maria Leptin, head of a research group at the University of Cologne’s Institute of Genetics, has been appointed President of the European Research Council on October 01, 2021. The biologist and immunologist will serve a four-year term. The European Research Council was first established under the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme and is the European Union agency spearheading fundamental advances at and beyond the frontier of knowledge. The European Research Council awards grants through open competitions to projects headed by starting or established researchers. The sole criterion for selection is scientific excellence. ‘The achievements and value of the ERC are widely known and highly regarded. Leading such an organization is undoubtedly a challenging and important task, and I am very much looking forward to it,’ Leptin remarked.

The members of the ERC’s Scientific Council are appointed by the European Commission on the recommendation of an independent Identification Committee. As Chair of the Scientific Council and President, Leptin will be the ERC’s official representative vis-à-vis the European Commission and other bodies. She outlines her plans for her term as follows: ‘As the ERC’s President, I will focus on two main goals in the coming years. First, an important task is to ensure stability. This means not only financial stability, but also an unwavering commitment to the founding principles of excellence and fundamental, curiosity-driven research across the breadth of knowledge. Moreover, the ERC’s stability can be secured by achieving a better understanding among the general public of the value and importance of top basic research. The second major goal, which may appear to contradict the first, is sufficient flexibility and freedom to explore and experiment. That is the only way that excellent research can generate new knowledge. Our society urgently needs objective, truth-based knowledge – not only in the natural sciences, but also in all the other academic and cultural areas that are essential for society to thrive.’

After earning her degree in mathematics and biology at the Universities of Bonn and Heidelberg, Leptin went to the Basel Institute for Immunology in Switzerland, where she conducted her doctoral work from 1979 to 1983. From 1984 to 1989, she was a postdoc at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. Between 1989 and 1994, she served as a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen. In 1994, Leptin became a professor at the University of Cologne’s Institute of Genetics, where she still heads a research group. She spent sabbaticals as a visiting professor at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris (2001) and as guest researcher at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (2004–2005). In 2010, she was appointed Director of EMBO, a Heidelberg-based organisation that supports the life sciences throughout Europe.

Leptin is an elected member of EMBO, the Academia Europaea and the German National Academy of Sciences (Leopoldina), and an Honorary Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Media Contact:
Prof. Dr. Maria Leptin
Institute of Genetics

Press and Communications:
Jürgen Rees