Based on vision on future of biomedical research

The Friedrich Miescher Institute was established as a foundation on April 10, 1970 by a joint decision of the then separate Basel-based pharmaceutical companies Ciba AG and J.R. Geigy AG. The new institute was named after the Basel scientist Friedrich Miescher (1844-1895) who first purified nucleic acids in 1869, ca. 100 years before the founding of the FMI. The founding Director was Prof. Dr. Hubert Bloch, former Head of Pharmaceutical Research, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Basel, and a member of the Swiss National Science Foundation. The founding charter described the aims of the Institute as to "pursue and promote basic research in the fields of biochemistry and medicine ..." and "to provide young scientists from all over the world with an opportunity to participate in scientific research". This was a far-sighted move triggered by the emerging revolution in DNA technologies and the birth of molecular genetics. The general research themes laid down in the 1970s were tumor biology, neurobiology and regulation by hormones.

Plant biology

In 1976, the FMI broadened its interests into plant biology, where probably the first impact of the evolving molecular techniques was felt. Long-researched topics such as plant development, the action of plant hormones and plant-microbe interactions developed a new impetus that was very productive in the laboratory and even in agriculture in the field. Following the spin-off of the Novartis agribusiness into Syngenta AG in 2000, plant science at the FMI was gradually transformed into a strong epigenetics focus.

Signaling and cancer

The Signaling and Cancer program at the FMI has sought a comprehensive understanding of signaling circuits and mechanisms regulating the growth, division and death of cells. A deeper knowledge of these processes facilitated the development of novel, mechanism-based therapeutics to combat human disease. Two FMI projects in particular were readily taken up by Novartis and led to groundbreaking therapeutics: the discovery of the key signaling kinase PKB (Akt) and the demonstration of its central role in cancer cell signaling, as well as work on ribosome protein phosphorylation. In the mid-2010s, the research focus shifted from “Signaling & Cancer” towards “Quantitative Biology”.


Originally, the interest in epigenetics – the study of how cells control gene activity without changing the DNA sequence – at the FMI stemmed from the study of plant transgenesis; since the early 1990s, the FMI has developed an interdisciplinary approach that exploits various model organisms to understand the molecular mechanisms of epigenetic control. The pioneering development of protocols to monitor and quantify chromatin and DNA modifications genome-wide have been one of FMIs major contributions to the field of “epigenomics”. FMI scientists further discovered key players in RNA interference (RNAi) and miRNA function, and have elucidated the roles of histone deacetylases in gene repression and cell cycle control. Such research has made the FMI a world-class center of epigenetics..


Neurobiology has been a focus for the FMI since it was founded. An early FMI breakthrough was the development of new technologies to visualize different parts of neurons. In the late 90s, FMI neurobiologists started to focus on what they believed would be the future of the field: neuronal circuits, and how they program memories, movements and behavior. Since then, the FMI has published dozens of groundbreaking discoveries, showing the different roles of neurons and how memories are stored in the brain. The FMI is recognized worldwide for its contributions to that area.

Research focus today: Genome Regulation, Multicellular Systems, Neurobiology

As the strength of the FMI in genome regulation has moved well beyond chromatin and epigenetics, the former Epigenetics area evolved into Genome Regulation in 2021. Researchers in that area aim to understand how DNA sequence leads to structure and function.

The research area Quantitative Biology that began in the mid-2010s evolved into Multicellular Systems in 2021. The goal of that team is to identify molecular and cellular mechanisms by which tissues, organs and organisms are formed, destabilized and repaired. The researchers try to understand the underlying principles of complex biological behavior in terms of physical, mathematical and chemical models.

Neurobiology research at the FMI has gone from strength to strength, with the same goal: mapping and decoding neuronal circuits to elucidate mechanisms underlying perception, emotions, cognition, learning, behavior, movement, etc.

» FMI History: Overview 1970-2010 (PDF)

About Friedrich Miescher
40th anniversary
50th anniversary

Hubert Bloch, first Director of the FMI

At one of the first Annual Meetings of the FMI in 1975

An image from the "plant era"