Ralf Sommer How Does the Interplay of Genes, Environment, and Development Affect the Biological Diversity of a Species?

Ralf Sommer is Director at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, where he previously worked as a Young Investigator. He is also Honorary Professor at the University of Tübingen, Germany. His research in the field of evolutionary biology combines laboratory studies with fieldwork to investigate how developmental phenotypic plasticity influences biological diversity. Sommer is a recipient of the Falcon Prize of the German Society for Cell Biology and an elected member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO).

Area of Research

Developmental Biology

Vladislav Susoy, Erik J. Ragsdale, Natsumi Kanzaki and Ralf J. Sommer. "Rapid Diversification Associated with a Macroevolutionary Pulse of Developmental Plasticity." Elife 4 (2015): No. e05463.  
Daniel J. Bumbarger, Metta Riebesell, Christian Rödelsperger and Ralf J. Sommer. "System-wide Rewiring Underlies Behavioral Differences in Predatory and Bacterial-feeding Nematodes." Cell 152 (2013): 109-119.  

since 1999

Director

Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology

Department for Evolutionary Biology

since 2002

Honorary Professor

University of Tübingen (Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen)

1995-1999

Young Investigator

Max Planck Society (more details)

Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology

1989-1992

PhD

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

1984-1989

Study of Biology

University of Tübingen (Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen)

Elected as EMBO Member (2015)

Member of the Perspective Committee of the Max-Planck-Society (2002-2006)

Prizes

Falcon Prize, German Society for Cell Biology (1996)

Fellowships

Research Fellow in the Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology (1993-1995)

© Maximilian Dörrbecker

Max Planck Society


"The Max Planck Society is Germany's most successful research organization. Since its establishment in 1948, no fewer than 18 Nobel laureates have emerged from the ranks of its scientists, putting it on a par with the best and most prestigious research institutions worldwide. The more than 15,000 publications each year in internationally renowned scientific journals are proof of the outstanding research work conducted at Max Planck Institutes – and many of those articles are among the most-cited publications in the relevant field." (Source)

Institute

Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology

"Contemporary biology covers an enormous scale, from research on basic cellular processes to predictions about global climate change. But this spectrum has not been continuous: while biologists have long known that organisms physically adapt to their natural environments, too often the underlying genetic, molecular and biochemical processes have remained a mystery. The MPI for Developmental Biology is uniquely poised to help close this gap. At the atomic level, we are investigating how protein machines work. At the molecular and subcellular level, we are studying how proteins and RNA molecules cooperate to regulate fundamental processes such as transcription, translation and signal transduction and how this is dependent on the location of proteins within the cell. At the tissue level, we are determining how cells interact to produce complex outcomes during development. Finally, at the organism level, we are asking how the naturally occurring interactions among microbes, plants and animals shape their genomes." (Source)

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Plants, animals, and fungi show a huge diversity regarding form and phenotype: the observable characteristics of an organism. The research presented in this video uses the model of a particular roundworm to investigate how the phenotype is changed by the environment; this is known as phenotypic plasticity. RALF SOMMER explains that Pristionchus pacificus develops alternative mouth forms depending on their environment, either feeding on bacteria or on other roundworms. By manipulating the worms’ genome, the researchers identified one gene which, if deactivated, results in animals that no longer develop the predatory mouth form. Theoretical biologists have been suggesting the existence of so-called developmental switch genes that determine which of several traits encoded in the genome of an individual is formed. Such genes had, however, not yet been identified. Further experiments revealed that this developmental switch is not constituted by one single gene but is part of a more complex genetic network.

LT Video Publication DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.21036/LTPUB10381

The Nuclear Hormone Receptor NHR-40 Acts Downstream of the Sulfatase EUD-1 as Part of a Developmental Plasticity Switch in Pristionchus

  • Manuela R. Kieninger, Nicholas A. Ivers, Christian Rödelsperger, Gabriel V. Markov, Ralf J. Sommer and Erik J. Ragsdale
  • Current Biology
  • Published in 2016

Chicago

Manuela R. Kieninger, Nicholas A. Ivers, Christian Rödelsperger, Gabriel V. Markov, Ralf J. Sommer and Erik J. Ragsdale. "The Nuclear Hormone Receptor NHR-40 Acts Downstream of the Sulfatase EUD-1 as Part of a Developmental Plasticity Switch in Pristionchus." Current Biology 26 (2016): 2174-2179.

Chromatin Remodelling and Antisense-mediated Up-regulation of the Developmental Switch Gene eud-1 Control Predatory Feeding Plasticity

  • Vahan Serobyan, Hua Xiao, Suryesh Namdeo, Christian Rödelsperger, Bogdan Sieriebriennikov, Hanh Witte, Waltraud Röseler and Ralf J. Sommer
  • Nature Communications
  • Published in 2016

Chicago

Vahan Serobyan, Hua Xiao, Suryesh Namdeo, Christian Rödelsperger, Bogdan Sieriebriennikov, Hanh Witte, Waltraud Röseler and Ralf J. Sommer. "Chromatin Remodelling and Antisense-mediated Up-regulation of the Developmental Switch Gene eud-1 Control Predatory Feeding Plasticity." Nature Communications 7 (2016).

A Developmental Switch Coupled to the Evolution of Plasticity Acts through a Sulfatase

  • Erik J. Ragsdale, Manuela R. Müller, Christian Rödelsperger and Ralf J. Sommer
  • Cell
  • Published in 2013

Chicago

Erik J. Ragsdale, Manuela R. Müller, Christian Rödelsperger and Ralf J. Sommer. "A Developmental Switch Coupled to the Evolution of Plasticity Acts through a Sulfatase." Cell 155 (2013): 922-933.