Obituary for Dirk Hincha

August 18, 2020

With great sadness we have to announce the sudden death of Dirk Hincha, group leader of the central infrastructure group ‘Genomics and Transcript Profiling’. Dirk passed away last week unexpectedly at the age of 62.

Dirk studied biology in Bochum and Wurzburg. He carried out his PhD in Wurzburg in the group of Prof. Ulrich Heber, supported by the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes. After completing his PhD in 1988, he moved to the group of Prof. Schmitt at the Free University in Berlin, where he habilitated in 1993. He was awarded a prestigious Heisenberg Fellow of the German Research Foundation, which he used to pursue research at the Institute of Plant Physiology and Microbiology at the Free University in Berlin and at the Section of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California at Davis, USA. His next move was to the MPIMP where, after a short period as research scientist in the group of Arnd Heyer, in 2002 he was appointed group leader of the central infrastructure group ‘Genomics and Transcript Profiling’. He spent 18 fruitful years at the MPIMP, and concurrently was associated with the University of Potsdam as a lecturer.

Dirk was a well-known expert in abiotic stress research in plants. His current research concerned the investigation of natural genetic diversity for molecular mechanisms of cold, heat, high night temperature and drought stress tolerance in Arabidopsis, potato and rice, the identification of molecular signatures of plant stress memory, integrated omics approaches for the identification of stress tolerance markers and the exploitation of the rice transcriptome for gene discovery. His research was driven by a fusion of experimental work in molecular biology, genomics and quantitative genetic with bioinformatics and computation.

In parallel, he pursued a comprehensive research program on structure-function relationships of Arabidopsis LEA proteins included modelling of membrane-protein interactions with molecular dynamics simulations.

His deep knowledge together with an overview of the newest developments in all these areas was published in over 183 research articles. He additionally edited two influential method books on plant cold acclimation.

Dirk was not only an extremely dedicated and influential researcher. He was a great collaborator. He collaborated with many groups in the MPIMP, the University of Potsdam and the Berlin Universities. He was welcomed into several huge research consortia, including two currently running projects, a SusCrop Era-Net project on the potato metabiome with ten academic and industrial partners in six European countries, and the CRC 973 on priming and memory of organismic responses to stress with 20 regional research groups.

Dirk was not only a dedicated basic scientist. He was also driven by the wish to contribute to applied projects to aid breeding and crop improvement. He repeatedly gained funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development for research projects with the International Rice Research Institute or from the Agency for Renewable Resources (FNR), for drought stress projects on potato.

Dirk was a member of the editorial boards of the journals Cryobiology, Plant, Cell and Environment and the Journal of Plant Physiology. He enthusiastically enjoyed working in science and could not imagine to retire from constantly creating new hypothesis, developing new methods and producing and publishing new and exciting results.

Dirk was a considerate and generous colleague and mentor who always supported younger scientists in an extraordinary way taking care not only of their scientific career, but additionally of their personal ideas and wishes. He supervised many PhD and master students and guest scientists, whose lives and careers were deeply affected by his kind advice and support. Alone in the last six years, eight PhD students, five Master students and two bachelors students completed their Theses in his group, and another four are currently working towards their PhD. Dirk was also always there for the institute. He was in many PACS. His quiet but insightful and constructive questions at seminars will always be remembered. Dirk was a superb colleague, a ‘good citizen’.

Dirk leaves behind a daughter and a son. Our thoughts are with them in this difficult time.

The institute thanks Dirk for his steady commitment and his creativity. We will miss him sorely and will always bear him in our remembrance.

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