A successful scientific partnership

The Max Planck Society landed in Argentina 5 years ago and established the first Max Planck partner Institute in Latin America. Which is the secret of this long-lasting relationship?

Peter Gruss, Eduardo Arzt and Herbert Jäckle. Photo: CONICET Photography.

In October 2011 the Max Planck Society opened, along with the CONICET, the Biomedicine Research Institute of Buenos Aires (IBioBA–MPSP), its first South American partner institute. In 2014 the institute underwent its first biennial evaluation and in 2016 the second.

A Scientific Advisory Board to the Max Planck Society (MPS) constituted by world-renowned scientists evaluated the activities of the IBioBA, its research lines and staff in order to prepare a report for the MPS on the performance of the institute. A week latter, the meeting Frontiers in Bioscience 2 took place in Buenos Aires, with the participation of 25 directors of Max Planck Institutes.

Herbert Jäckle, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Peter Gruss, Former President of the Max Planck Society, and Eduardo Arzt, Senior Researcher of the CONICET and Director of the IBioBA, comment on the achievements of the Institute and the milestones ahead.

“We are very pleased to host our colleagues here and the excellent meeting we had, with many argentine colleagues and so many students from all over the country. After these first years we are enthusiastic about the development of the Institute and the potential for the future with the excellent staff we have recruited”, says Arzt.


Which are the advances or differences you noted on the performance of the IBioBA?

Herbert Jäckle: It is very simple: there is a fantastic development. This is best evidenced by the fact that first of all at the meeting at Buenos Aires were 25 Max Planck directors, and they don’t go to a place where science is boring. The science that is developed here is greatly supported by CONICET and the Ministry of Science has done the upmost you can do in order to let this thing grow. If you come here you feel like home, like at the Max Planck.


In an overall overview, what do you find the most striking on the science that it is done here?

HJ: We have to take two things aside: the science done here is done by Eduardo as the director, and even more importantly by young scientists, and the recruitment of young scientist. From what I heard from my colleagues there was a spectacular progress: “The new hires are fantastic and it continued to be spectacular”. So if the experts say that, why would I have a different opinion?


What about in the future and the milestones to come? This is a relatively new institute with young scientists, so which are the goals ahead?

HJ: This is very simple. This place has the Max Planck philosophy, meaning basic science and excellent people. So the future will be fundamental science and excellent people. So milestones in a way that exists in a company as it exists in more applied organizations doesn’t exist, because when you make a discovery it may apply for patent, it may be a product 20 years down the road but to set up milestones you have to know exactly what you discovered and you don’t know. Basic science is surprise and excellence.


What about the collaboration between research groups from the IBioBA and the MPS in Germany?

HJ: I think we have a really great programme between CONICET and Max Planck, and we both contribute to hire excellent young people and support them financially. This is something that works extremely well. What would be the outcome of that? Again, excellent people.


Recently there was an announcement on a fellowship Bunge y Born-Max Planck for doctoral stays in Germany. Which is the aim?

HJ: The aim is very simple. Also Bunge y Born believes in excellence and they want to support very young people to gain experience abroad and to go in laboratories where they can basically work on part of their thesis. So they can go up to six months to a German MPS institute and they can do work that is agreed upon the bosses, so to speak, in order to pick up new technologies or to do experiments because Max Planck has state of the art equipment. And also is very competitive, so they only send their very best people. Us, the MPS, don’t do anything iF there is not a win-win situation so this young people learn about Max Planck, they come to the laboratories and they don’t go to the States because most people are afraid that you have to learn German. German is OK but it is not what you need for science, while if you go to the States or England you also learn the language of science. And if people have this experience they realize that our labs are totally international, the lab language is in English and that you can survive in the society without speaking German. And this is the best advertisement we have, and we thank Bunge y Born very much for this and we consider this a gift for young people but also a gift for the society.


From the inauguration in 2011 to this recent meeting, which are the differences you note at the IBioBA?

Peter Gruss: When I came from the hotel to the building I didn’t know where I was because I remember a completely different structure here. Obviously that is what happens when a lot of insight and money float from the government to a venue that is dedicated to deliver excellent science. And this is something which I think it cannot be overestimated and is the need for excellent science. So I think it has the basic set-up and the ingredients to be internationally competitive. Having said this, what one would need to ask is that sufficient? You government spends roughly a total 0.7% of the GDP and industry is probably negligible. So I think there are elements that must be encouraged: the innovation ecosystem, as we say, has to work at every level. So we started at the basis, which is correct, but above and beyond the basis you need more elements, and perhaps what would I suggest is to look deeper into the interactions that can be forged between what happens here and what is required to have an economic boost, because there is a whole battery of elements that you need in order to translate the know-how into products. At the end of the day you have to serve your people, and you serve your people best if you address the problems that our society has.

By Ana Belluscio.