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Nr. 99, 06.07.2019  voriger  Übersicht  weiter

Growing together

The new "Kiel Plant Center" at Kiel University focuses on the development of strategies to promote food security and sustainable plant protection. As a first step, the network arranged a symposium for the end of July on plant health and environmental interactions.


Basic scientific research and the translation to different fields of application from plant protection and plant breeding to the development of active substances are important pillars of the new plant research centre in Kiel. Credit: Christian Urban

The new cooperative research centre “Kiel Plant Center” (KPC) was recently launched to promote and integrate the various plant research activities at Kiel University and its partner institutions.

In addition to the scientists from the Botanical Institute, the newly established network integrates researchers from different faculties and institutes, like for example the Faculty of Agricultural and Nutritional Sciences, the Institute of Pharmacy and also the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön. The scientific spectrum ranges from molecular plant biology, plant ecology and biology, for instance, to plant breeding.

The KPC wants to bring these different fields of research together and promote collaboration across the different disciplines. In addition to other core subjects that have already been established such as evolutionary research, inflammation and microbiome studies, plant science is a new special focus within the priority research area “Kiel Life Science” (KLS) at Kiel University.

Healthy plants are the foundation for a functioning ecosystem, global biogeochemical cycles and not least global food supplies. However, climate change, an increase in demographic pressure and the disruption of natural habitats put plant health, diversity and productivity at risk. The scientists at Kiel University want to meet these challenges even more efficiently in the future by investigating the underlying research questions and the impact on plant health in an interdisciplinary and comprehensive approach.

“As plant researchers at Kiel University, we are in an excellent position to find answers to the key issues of our times,” the spokesperson of the new centre, Professor Eva Stukenbrock emphasises. “With our new interdisciplinary alliance, we have now created an organisational structure to formulate this in cooperative plant research projects.”

One of the main challenges for plant researchers is the increasing demand for sustainable plant protection strategies. The evolution of resistance, for example, decreases the susceptibility of pests to pesticides. In addition, risks we are aware of today with regard to food safety and the environment render the conventional use of pesticides questionable. At the same time, global food production is under rising pressure because of the rapid increase in the global population and the related increase in land usage.

The increased appearance of certain plant pests, which is also driven by climate change, and the deterioration of cultivation conditions, such as increased droughts or floods, reinforce the requirements for the cultivation of plants even further.

“The resulting food safety crisis must be met by plant scientists all around the globe,” Stukenbrock underlines. “Here in Kiel, we are currently working on some promising approaches in order to be able to offer environmentally friendly solutions in the future,” the evolutionary biologist adds. These include new evolution-based and sustainable plant protection strategies, which naturally reduce the susceptibility of crops to harmful organisms. Another focus of the KPC will be to investigate the interdependencies between plant-damaging insects and nematodes in order to find new ways of breeding resistant plants.

Another important topic of research in Kiel is also improving plant resilience against weather extremes. The potential solutions investigated in the KPC will increasingly rely on a closer transdisciplinary integration of the individual fields of research.

As an initial step and first highlight, the plant research centre will host the international symposium on “Plant Health and Environmental Interactions”, which will be held at the end of July and expected to be attended by around 70 top scientists in the Zoological Museum in Kiel and the Botanic Gardens of Kiel University. Conference topics include immunological responses of plants, sustainable regulation of major pests in fruit cultivation or the special meaning of seaweeds for healthy coastal ecosystems. The regular scientific exchange in these conferences, which will from now on be held annually, is only one of several building blocks of the new KPC. In addition, the organisational team behind the KPC also plans to initiate a dialogue with society by organising public events, in which the fundamental significance of plant research activities will be explained.

Christian Urban

Additional information
Kiel Plant Center (KPC) research centre, Kiel University:
www.plant-center.uni-kiel.de

KPC Summer Symposium 2019 “Plant Health and Environment Interactions”, 22/23 July 2019:
www.plant-center.uni-kiel.de/en/outreach
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