Herwig Baier becomes a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO)

Acknowledgement of the neurobiologist's extraordinary achievements

July 30, 2013

The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) stands for cutting-edge research in the life sciences. The organization, founded in 1964, counts today more than 1600 members – all of which are highly renowned scientists from Europe and around the world. Once a year, the members elect new members, who distinguish themselves through excellent research and extraordinary achievements. This year, Herwig Baier, director at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, was named a new EMBO member. The neurobiologist investigates how behavior is controlled by the brain.

Every behavior, shown by humans or animals, is generated by the brain's nerve cells. How is a series of interconnected cells able to produce something as complex as, for example, a prey-catching behavior? This question stands at the center of Herwig Baier’s research.

Herwig Baier

Every second, the brain makes innumerous decisions on how to react to changing sensory stimuli. The aim of these decisions is to react with the best behavior possible to a current situation. Herwig Baier and his collaborators investigate the nerve cells which direct these behavioral operations. Their research is focused on the zebrafish, a tiny vertebrate, whose skin and brain are transparent. This enables the scientists to identify individual, fluorescently labeled nerve cells and to observe them under the microscope. The method of optogenetics, which was established in this research field by Herwig Baier’s team, allows the activation or inactivation of single nerve cells. This method allows an optical "remote control" of brain activity.

A fish may recognize a moving object either as prey and pursue it, or it can feel threatened by it and the fish will swim away from the object. With the aid of optogenetics, the scientists are able to investigate which nerve cells are involved in these opposing behavioral answers. In the long run, Herwig Baier and his team want to understand the signals that rush through the synaptic circuits when a decision is made. What neuronal signals trigger prey-capture or escape? Which impact has, for example, the animal"s motivation, for instance hunger or satiety, on these neuronal signals?

Herwig Baier studied biology at the University of Konstanz. He carried out his diploma and doctoral theses at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, where he was awarded his PhD degree in 1995. Afterwards, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California in San Diego. Beginning in 1998, Herwig Baier worked as professor at the University of California in San Francisco. In May 2011, he accepted the position of Director at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried. Here, he heads the department Genes – Circuits – Behavior.
The high impact of Herwig Baier's research has already been acknowledged by a number of awards and honors. Among them is a fellowship of the Packard Foundation, the Sloan Award for Neurosciences and the Klingenstein Award.

The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO)

The EMBO supports talented researchers at each stage of their career and promotes the national and international scientific exchange. The aim is to create a European research environment in which scientists can achieve their best work.

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