Maria Leptin received her PhD in 1983 from the University of Heidelberg for work carried out at the Basel Institute for Immunology. After postdoctoral work at the Laboratory for Molecular Biology in Cambridge, a research visit at the University of California San Francisco and a group leader position at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen she became Professor of Genetics at the University of Cologne in 1994. In January 2010, Maria Leptin was appointed as Director of EMBO and established a research group in Heidelberg at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). Her research areas are cell and developmental biology (using Drosophila) and the genetics of pathogen resistance (using the zebrafish).
Maria Leptin is an elected member of EMBO, the Academia Europaea and the Leopoldina. She serves on the editorial boards of leading journals, on advisory boards of several academic institutions and selection panels for funding institutions. She is Deputy Director of the Christiane-Nüsslein-Volhard Stiftung, member of the selection panel for the Eppendorf Award for Young European Investigators and President of the Initiative for Science in Europe.