HALLE AN DER SAALE, GERMANY--With a preview of his plans to keep Germany in the top ranks of global science, developmental biologist Peter Gruss today took the reins of Germany's premier research foundation, the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science. Speaking at the society's annual meeting, Gruss said German science needs "funding and freedom" to stay on par with its global competition.
Gruss is the former head the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen. He succeeds Hubert Markl, whose 6-year tenure as president was dominated by the founding of 18 new Max Planck institutes in the former East Germany.
Like his predecessor, Gruss does not shy away from political debates. In his speech, he strongly criticized the compromise law on the use of human embryonic stem cells passed earlier this year by the German parliament (ScienceNOW, 30 January). Although the law allows basic research to go forward, he said, it effectively rules out therapeutic applications because all permissible cell lines have been exposed to mouse cells and are unfit for implanting in humans. Gruss also said he would welcome final passage of a controversial new immigration law, saying it would remove obstacles to recruitment of foreign science talent.
Gruss said one of his top priorities will be strengthening connections with German universities, especially through the new International Max Planck Research Schools, which are jointly funded and run by Max Planck Institutes and cooperating universities. Establishing these interdisciplinary graduate schools "is one of the best things Markl did" as president, says Wieland Huttner from the MPI for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden.
But expanding the existing 19 schools and getting a planned seven more off the ground will depend on government funding. Both Markl and Gruss cited possible cuts--triggered by a nationwide belt-tightening in response to a sluggish economy--as their biggest fear. Germany's Bund-Länder-Komission, comprised of federal and state government representatives, will decide on the society's 2003 budget Monday, giving Gruss the first hints of where his organization is headed.