Research at the interface of seed development, epigenetics and evolution

October 16, 2020

Professor Claudia Köhler has been appointed as new director of department II at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology (MPI-MP)

Seed development, which consists of the triad of embryo, endosperm and seed coat formation, is a complex process in which epigenetic mechanisms play a very important role. This is due to the fact that for error-free seed development, the contributions of the paternal and maternal genomes must be tightly coordinated. Epigenetics studies changes in gene activity that are not based on a change in DNA sequence.

Although seeds and in particular their endosperm form a major part of our diet, relatively little is known about the molecular and genetic mechanisms of seed formation and thus the basis of seed yield in agriculture. Claudia Köhler‘s research focus is on seed development and in particular on epigenetic processes governing seed develop-ment. She has developed  and established new concepts and a wide array of methods and materials for research on seed formation, which will enable her to answer fundamental questions in seed biology in the future.

Her research extends and complements the research portfolio of the MPI-MP, whose main focus is on the study of biosynthesis, transport and distribution of metabolites in plants. Seeds, and in particular, the endosperm, represent a major sink for photosynthetically fixed carbon in plants. Seed development and the involved epigenetic processes are therefore not only an exciting research field, but are as well of enormous relevance for agricultural yield.

About Claudia Köhler

She studied biology at the University of Halle, received her PhD from the University of Freiburg in 1999, and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Zurich before joining the ETH Zurich as assistant professor in 2005. Since 2010, she has been full professor at the Swedish University of Agriculture in Uppsala.

She is an elected member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and member of the National Academy of Sciences, Leopoldina.

Claudia Köhler will take over as head of Department II at the MPI of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam-Golm on February 1, 2021 and will thematically realign the department. Until July 31, 2021, she will perform her duties as secondary employment.

Emeritus of Prof. Mark Stitt

In parallel with the appointment of Professor Köhler, Professor Mark Stitt will retire. The Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology was newly founded in 1994. After founding director Lothar Willmitzer, Professor Mark Stitt was appointed to the still young institute in December 2000. He established the Department 2 "Metabolic Networks", which studied a wide set of physiological and molecular processes involved in orchestrating photosynthetic carbon metabolism, nitrogen and phosphate utilization, growth, and storage and in adjusting these processes in a changing environment. This was studied with high-throughput systems approaches using genetically modified plants and on naturally-occuring ecotype variants and crop cultivars, and in species ranging from the model species Arabidopsis thaliana through to major crops like tomato, rice, maize and Cassava. In the last 20 years, many young scientists moved on from his department to take up leading positions in academia and industry, both in Germany and worldwide. Prof. Stitt will retire on January 31, 2021.


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