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.
Reunification: Re-establishment under Benno Parthier (1989-1997)
Science before and after reunification: Pioneering research on new hormones
Launching a new era: New Technologies and Platforms (1998-2010)
Research of the departments
Natural Product Biotechnology (1999-2006)
Secondary Metabolism (1993-2010)
At the department of Secondary Metabolism, headed by Dieter Strack, focus lay on the analysis of various secondary substance classes, such as phenylpropanoids and isoprenoids. Selected experimental systems such as arbuscular mycorrhiza served as research subjects. IPB scientists were able to show that the biosynthesis of the mycorrhiza-specific isoprenoid mycorradicin is induced by the fungus during its colonization of the plant root (Michael H. Walter).
A second project aimed at the reduction of the bitter substance content in rapeseed (Carsten Milkowski). By inactivating the main biosynthesis genes, the amount of the prevalent bitter substance sinapoylcholine could be reduced by 80 percent, making rapeseed a potential animal feed and food additive. Due to a lack of acceptance for transgenic plants in Europe, the project was terminated in 2004. Follow-up work such as field trials were later relocated to Canada.
Most of the department's projects ended with the retirement of Dieter Strack in fall 2010. This did not include work on evolutionary development of important biosynthesis enzymes of secondary metabolism (Thomas Vogt) and on the relationship between jasmonate function and mycorrhization (Bettina Hause).
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.
A detailed account of the story can be found in the book
"60 Jahre Leibniz-Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie" by Sylvia Pieplow.