Research institute carefully starts lab operation again

April 27, 2020

After five weeks of emergency operation, the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics begins a cautious resumption of laboratory operations on April 27, 2020. With strict safety regulations, at least parts of the experimental lab work shall start again.

Update April 27th, 2020: In accordance with the cautious withdrawal of restrictions on public life, the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Genetics begins a guarded resumption of laboratory research operations on April 27, 2020. The weeks before, all lab operation were shut down almost completely, due to the corona pandemic. Strict internal regulations shall ensure that the number of people working at the Institute at the same time stays low enough to prevent a spread of infection as far as possible. In order to restart at least essential lab work, the researchers have drawn up duty rosters for all groups and work in up to three shifts separated by time. A large number of employees continues to work from home office; in addition, meetings and scientific talks only take place as video conferences and online seminars.

In many labs, only one person at the time is allowed to work. To ensure this, the scientists have drawn up strikt duty rosters.

Update March 20, 2020: Since March 20, 2020, the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics has been in emergency operation. Only persons who are required for essential tasks such as taking care of laboratory animals and maintaining the technical infrastructure are permitted to enter the Institute. With this, the Institute is following the “Ordinance on the Containment of the Coronavirus in Berlin,” which was passed by the Berlin Senate on 17 March 2020.

In the case of a massive and simultaneous spread of Sars-CoV2 among employees, the essential work at the Institute would come to a halt. For this reason, the Directors of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics (MPIMG) decided on Friday, March 13, 2020, to immediately reduce the research activities in the laboratories of the Institute as a precautionary measure.

In this way they also support the overall efforts to slow down the further spread of the Sars-CoV2 virus over as long a period as possible. Employees should use the time working from home office as an opportunity for intense evaluation of existing results and for developing new ideas.

Not all experiments are equally important

“Of course, all our lab experiments are important and the knowledge we gain is a valuable asset,” says Alexander Meissner, Managing Director at the MPIMG. “But in the current situation, we question every experiment: Why is this work more important than the common interest to ‘flatten the curve’?”

This is why the Institute agreed to postpone non-critical experiments to a later date, except ongoing research on animals. Long-term and expensive experiments may also be continued, if the results would be invalidated by an interruption. In addition, public events and most of the internal meetings have been cancelled for the coming weeks.

The measures are supposed to ensure the permanent maintenance of particularly critical functions of the Institute – like the care for the valuable laboratory animals and the operation of the institute's computing and technical infrastructure.

Reducing the density of people

The steps that are now being taken are intended to reduce the number of people present at the Institute at any time of the day to les than half. Other employees will continue their work from their homes.

“Thanks to modern technology, it is unproblematic to work together on many tasks with people from different places,” says Meissner.  “We will be able to use this time productively. Nobody has to come to the office to analyse data, write publications, brainstorm ideas or develop new projects,” he says. “For all these things, there is usually too little time in day-to-day business.”

In addition to these measures, an emergency plan has been developed to ensure that the MPIMG can maintain emergency operations even in the event of an ordered closure due to a surge of infections at the Institute.

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