60 years Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry:
a brief historical outline
Founding years under Kurt Mothes
Science in the Mothes period (1958-1967)
In addition to the more application-oriented drug research projects, IBP scientists also studied basic plant growth and developmental processes. Based on earlier work on protein metabolism during senescence, Mothes explored the function of cytokinin analogues and cytokinins in the early 1960s. His findings contributed substantially to the state of knowledge on these newly discovered phytohormones at the time. They led to the development of the hormone-mediated source-sink theory for aging and other physiological processes in plants, which is still valid today. Mothes was also able to identify the Green Islands effect caused by leaf miner larvae on aging leaves as a cytokinin-mediated effect. The finding was published in Nature in 1969.
The Institute under the direction of Klaus Schreiber (1968-1989)
In the mid-1970s, the institute's chemists began an intensive search for natural compounds that could serve as lead structures for the development of new medications. They mainly focused on plants from the primeval forests of Vietnam, which were used in folk medicine against various diseases. Numerous plant constituents, including some potential active substances, could be isolated and structurally elucidated at this time. These ethno-pharmacological projects under the direction of Günter Adam were continued after reunification and are still a focus of the Department of Bioorganic Chemistry today. Since 1972, generations of Vietnamese natural product chemists have been trained at the institute. Many of them now hold leading positions at research institutes in their home country.
In the field of stress research led by Lutz Nover, scientists could prove for the first time that plants, like bacteria, form classical heat shock proteins upon heat stress. The findings aroused international interest and were published in Cell in 1982. Later, these results led to the development of the chaperone theory, which is still being experimentally investigated worldwide.
Based on earlier work on cytokinins, IBP scientists investigated genetic regulation and protein metabolism of chloroplast biogenesis. At the beginning of the 70s, the institute provided evidence for the existence of a plastid-specific genome and that a number of chloroplast-specific genes are functional and active, being transcribed and translated independently of genes in the cell nucleus. This research was led by Benno Parthier. In addition, other phytohormones such as gibberellins, abscisic acid and ethylene were investigated at the IBP. In particular at that time, interest centered on gibberellins as haulm stabilizers for agricultural purposes. In the 1970s, scientists started the structural elucidation and synthesis of some gibberellin compounds and their conjugates (Günter Adam). Since financial partners from agriculture and industry ceased to exist after reunification, work in this field was discontinued in the early 1990s and the patents were released.
Reunification: Re-establishment under Benno Parthier (1989-1997)
In autumn 1989, demonstrations in Leipzig, Halle and many other cities marked the political change in East Germany. After the retirement of Klaus Schreiber, the East German Academy of Sciences appointed Klaus Müntz as the new director of the IBP. One year later, his directorate was officially replaced by Benno Parthier who, in May 1990, had been elected as the new director by the institute’s staff. According to the Unification Treaty between the two German states, East Germany’s Academy of Sciences had to disband by 31.12.1991, whereas the academy institutes, such as the IBP, had to undergo a rigorous evaluation process by the German Science Council. Afterwards, the fate of the nearly 70 academy institutes was decided: they were either decommissioned, affiliated with an university, or granted membership in one of the four German scientific associations.
The Science Council made the following recommendation on the IBP:
"In consideration of Halle's outstanding tradition in the field of plant sciences... the Science Council recommends the establishment of an independent research institute... which, due to its national importance...
fulfils the conditions for a Blue List Institute (today Leibniz Association).“
Science before and after reunification:
Pioneering research on new phytohormones
Launching a new era: New Technologies and Platforms (1998-2010)
Research of the departments
Natural Product Biotechnology (1999-2006)
Secondary Metabolism (1993-2010)
Stress and Developmental Biology (1994 - 2018)
Bioorganic Chemistry (since 2000)
The IPB from 2010: Interconnected into the future
Molecular Signal Processing (from 2009)
Cell and Metabolic Biology (from 2010)
Since 2017, the institute has been headed and represented by Steffen Abel. At its last audit in October 2017, the Scientific Advisory Board attested the institute a completely conclusive and future-oriented general concept. The institute's research topics are highly relevant to society and orient themselves on current challenges such as climate change, nutrition and biodiversity. With the initiation of the ScienceCampus Halle - Plant-Based Bioeconomy, the institute has also succeeded in embedding itself in the field of bioeconomy.
With the establishment of -omics sciences paired with bio- and chemoinformatics and the new synthesis methods of combinatorial chemistry, the institute has arrived sustainably at the modern age. Now it is necessary to strengthen the field of information technologies and to create modern data management structures. This requires adjustments to the infrastructure and the development of new methods of data storage and analysis in own research groups. The interpretation of collected data in order to gain new insights into biological structures and correlations is the great challenge that the institute will have to face in the future.