Petra Schwille receives the Cross of Merit

ORIGINS scientist and Max Planck Director Petra Schwille receives the highest recognition of the Federal Republic of Germany for services in the interest of the common good for her research.

Petra Schwille (right), together with Deputy Bavarian Minister-President Hubert Aiwanger (left) during the award ceremony for the Cross of Merit 1st Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Image: Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Wirtschaft, Landesentwicklung und Energie, Elke Neureuther

On November 15, 2023, Deputy Prime Minister Hubert Aiwanger awarded the Cross of Merit 1st Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany to biophysicist and Director at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Prof. Dr. Petra Schwille. In her research department, Petra Schwille aims to create a simple biological system from individual, well-characterized building blocks that can reproduce itself - something that was first achieved by the primordial cell.

"Her scientific and methodological expertise as well as her tireless enthusiasm make Professor Schwille a pioneer in her field of research. In addition to numerous awards, including the Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation and the Philip Morris Research Prize, she has now also been awarded the Federal Cross of Merit 1st Class in recognition of her commitment," said Deputy Minister President Hubert Aiwanger.

The work of the Cellular and Molecular Biophysics research department

How did the first cells develop billions of years ago? And what components and abilities did they have? Only one thing is certain: they had a much simpler structure than today's organisms, which have had to constantly adapt over the past three to four billion years of evolution on Earth and have thus become increasingly complex as a result. Currently, even a minimal biological cell, which should only have the absolutely necessary components, with around 500 genes, is still too complex to recreate. For this reason, scientists in this field are concentrating on individual, essential properties of cells, such as their division. The current research goal of Petra Schwille's department is to build such a minimal biochemical system that divides autonomously and in a controlled manner into two daughter systems without external control.

MPIB press release.