The institute was officially founded in 1998, and in 1999 construction work began on the new institute building on the former tram depot on Pfotenhauerstraße. In 2001, the first research groups moved into the completed building. Today, around 500 scientists from all over the world work at the MPI-CBG on the question of how a complex organism can develop from a single cell. 

The four founding directors already represented the international nature of the institute: Together the German neurobiologist Wieland Huttner, Anthony Hyman from Great Britain, Kai Simons from Finland and the Italian Marino Zerial built up the research location. In 2001, Australian Jonathon Howard was recruited from Seattle to complete the team. Ivan Baines from Great Britain built a central infrastructure to ensure that all research groups have access to the latest technologies and share resources wisely.

Kai Simons remembers:
“The challenge was to build up something from scratch. We could leave absolutely nothing to chance. I knew that we had to be successful within three years or so.”