Ralf J. Sommer works in the field of evolutionary developmental biology on nematodes. He has developed and established the nematode Pristionchus pacificus as a model system for integrative studies in evolutionary biology. His research program focuses on the evolutionary analysis of developmental processes and mechanisms and has identified developmental systems drift as general principle for the evolution of development. In the last decade his work focuses on the integration of laboratory studies in nematods genetics and development with field work in ecology and population genetics using the island of La Réunion as a case study. Most recent studies focus on the evolution of novelty and developmental plasticity, revealing how a novel predatory feeding behavior in nematodes is regulated by developmental switch genes and epigenetic regulatory mechanisms.
Sommer has been Scientific Member of the Max Planck Society and Director of the Department Integrative Evolutionary Biology at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany since 1999. He served as Executive Director of the Institute from 2001-2003 and from 2013 on, and was appointed Adjunct Professor (Honorarprofessor) at the University of Tübingen in 2002. Previously Sommer worked as Young Investigator at the MPI for Developmental Biology from 1995-1999, as EMBO Research Fellow at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA in Paul W. Sternberg's lab from 1993-1995 and with a fellowship from the "Verband der Chemischen Industrie" at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, where he earned his PhD at Prof. Dr. Diethard Tautz’ lab in 1992. Sommer is awardee of the FALCON Prize of the German Society for Cell Biology and was head co-organizer of the 19th International C. elegans Conference, UCLA, USA in 2013. In 2015 Sommer was elected as an EMBO member. Starting in 2021 he is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Nematology, the leading journal of nematode research.
Publications Ralf J. Sommer