Patrick Cramer, Ph.D., is president-elect of Germany’s Max Planck Society and director of the Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences. Dr. Cramer studies how the genome is transcribed and regulated in health and disease, employing structural biology, bioinformatics and functional genomics methods. He has made seminal contributions to the understanding of the structural basis of RNA polymerase function. His research highlights have included transcriptome surveillance by selective termination of noncoding RNA synthesis, impairment of termination factor recruitment to RNA pol II by XTD tyrosine phosphorylation, the structure of the mediator head module, development of transient transcriptome sequencing, or TT-seq, that can monitor dynamic changes in enhancer landscapes, as well as development of a multi-omics approach to extract kinetic parameters of RNA polymerase initiation frequency, pause duration, and elongation velocity. He earned his diploma in chemistry in 1995 at the University of Heidelberg, then went on to earn his doctorate at the University of Heidelberg/EMBL Grenoble (France) in 1998. He was a predoctoral fellow in Grenoble (France) from 1995 to 1998, and a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University from 1999 to 2001. He became a tenure-track professor of biochemistry at the University of Munich from 2001 to 2003, and professor of biochemistry at the University of Munich from 2004 to 2014. He served as director of the Gene Center of the University of Munich (LMU) from 2004 to 2013. He became director of the Max Planck Institute of Biophysical Chemistry (2014-2021), and since 2022 has directed the Max Planck Institute for Multidisciplinary Sciences. Dr. Cramer is a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and in 2020 was named to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
To uncover the molecular mechanisms that underlie gene transcription and its regulation in chromatin, our laboratory combines structural biology with functional genomics. Recent work includes the structure of the human transcription preinitiation complex containing RNA polymerase II (Pol II) and the Mediator, of Pol II elongation complexes in paused, pre-termination and active states, and of Pol II complexes with parts of the spliceosome and the DNA repair machinery. We have recently shown how accessory factors assist Pol II to pass through chromatin and thereby enable cellular transcription. In my presentation I will first provide a short summary of our present work and then focus on unpublished work from the laboratory before providing an outlook centered around open questions. At least in outline, a mechanistic understanding of regulated gene transcription is emerging, whereas the influence of chromatin and the integration of transcription with other nuclear events remains to be fully explored.