Friedrich Bonhoeffer came to biology via physics. After a postdoctoral stay in Berkeley, California, he began his research in 1961 as a group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Virus Research, today´s Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen. He was also among the first group leaders at the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory and was appointed Director at the Max Planck Institute for Virus Research in 1972.
After DNA replication had been the focus of Bonhoeffer’s work for many years, he began in the mid-1980s to address an important problem in neurobiology. To this end, he developed a completely new experimental paradigm, which enabled him to decode the molecular mechanisms responsible for the orderly and targeted growth of nerve connections between the eye and the optic tectum, one of the most important visual areas in the brain.
Bonhoeffer showed that the formation of proper connections in the developing brain is induced both by attractive and by repulsive molecular signals between axons and target cells. These discoveries were groundbreaking because they proved experimentally for the first time that ordered connections in the nervous system are organized by chemical molecules in the form of gradients. For these findings, he received the prestigious Gruber Prize for Neuroscience together with his colleagues Corey Goodman and Marc Tessier-Lavigne in 2020.
We have lost a highly esteemed colleague and loyal friend of the Institute and the Max Planck Society. It was a great privilege for all of us who had the opportunity to get to know him. We will miss him very much.