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Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla Portrait
Helmholtz Munich | ©Petra Nehmeyer

Prof. Dr. Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla

Director of the Stem Cell Center (rotating), Director of the Institute for Epigenetics and Stem Cells, Director of Biomedicine at the Helmholtz Pioneer Campus, Chair of Stem Cell Biology, Faculty of Biology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (LMU)
Email meBuilding/Room: Building 90 / Room 107

"It is amazing that a single cell, the zygote, can form a whole organism. Discovering how the DNA and the chromatin organization enable that has been my driver over the years.”

"It is amazing that a single cell, the zygote, can form a whole organism. Discovering how the DNA and the chromatin organization enable that has been my driver over the years.”

Academic Career

Throughout her scientific career, Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla has been interested in understanding the mechanisms that regulate cell fate and underlie cellular identity. Her research focus lies on the epigenetic mechanisms that regulate the transitions of cellular plasticity and epigenetic reprogramming after fertilization in mammals, with the long-term goal of understanding how totipotency is established, maintained and how it can be experimentally manipulated. 

Building Bridges

Maria-Elena studied Biology at the National University of Mexico. She joined the group of Mary C. Weiss at the Institute Pasteur in Paris for her PhD, where she focused on understanding how specific transcription factors regulate differentiation processes. Using a model of liver differentiation, she identified an embryonic isoform of the nuclear receptor HNF4alpha, which displayed specificity to regulate the embryonic hepatic program. She proposed that the use of different nuclear receptor isoforms enables a differential interaction with chromatin modifiers, thereby promoting different cellular programs.

With the goal of leveraging her expertise and to focus on cell fate regulation from a broader scale, she joined the laboratory of Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz at the Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge, for her Postdoc. Using the very early mouse embryo as model system, she generated novel insights into the epigenetic regulation of early mammalian development, demonstrating for the first time the central role of histone modifications and chromatin regulators in the cell fate decisions in the early embryo.

In 2008, she started her own group, which aims to identify the epigenetic principles underlying epigenetic reprogramming and cellular plasticity in mammals. Their work has led to key contributions for understanding the regulation of chromatin remodelling during early mouse development, and its functional impact for cell potency and reprogramming.

Over the past years, she has been fully committed to promote the next generation of scientific leaders. Following her motto ‘science has no borders’, she is dedicated to bring science closer to society and to promote ethical, legal and societal standards in science to achieve responsible research.


Professional Career

Since 2021: Elected Member of Academia Europeae

… as an honorable recognition of her scientific contributions in our understanding of life, primarily in developmental biology.

Since 2019: Work Package Leader and Founder Member of the LifeTime European Initiative

Mission: Promoting cell-based and patient-centered medicine to improve healthcare throughout Europe

2017: Co-Chair for World Economic Forum Annual Meeting ‘Summer Davos’

… highlighting the importance of basic research and funding through the research area epigenetics.

Since 2016: Director of the Institute for Epigenetics and Stem Cells at Helmholtz Munich and Professor of Stem Cell Biology at the Faculty of Biology of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich

Her mission: Cracking up the nucleus to unlock a cell’s true potential.

Recent Publications

Tsunetoshi Nakatani, Jiangwei Lin, Fei Ji, Andreas Ettinger, Julien Pontabry, Mikiko Tokoro, Luis Altamirano-Pacheco, Jonathan Fiorentino, Elmir Mahammadov, Yu Hatano, Capucine Van Rechem, Damayanti Chakraborty, Elias R. Ruiz-Morales, Paola Y. Arguello Pascualli, Antonio Scialdone, Kazuo Yamagata, Johnathan R. Whetstine, Ruslan I. Sadreyev & Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla

DNA replication fork speed underlies cell fate changes and promotes reprogramming

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