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Prof. Dr. Nicole van Dam – New Director of Research of the Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops (IGZ)
Prof. Dr. Nicole van Dam will take over as the new director of research of the Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops (IGZ) from 1 October 2022. The renowned researcher is a professor at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, Institute of Biodiversity and has headed the “Molecular Interaction Ecology” research group at the […]
Prof. Dr. Nicole van Dam will take over as the new director of research of the Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops (IGZ) from 1 October 2022. The renowned researcher is a professor at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, Institute of Biodiversity and has headed the “Molecular Interaction Ecology” research group at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig since 2014. She is an expert in the field of chemical plant ecology and studies the interaction between plants and other organisms above ground and in the root zone.
Nicole van Dam will start her work at the IGZ on 1 October 2022 and will be welcomed to the IGZ in Großbeeren with a ceremony on 10 October 2022. She will thus succeed Prof. Dr. Eckhard George, who has been the director of research of the IGZ since 2000 and is retiring.
In addition to her work as a research group leader at iDiv, Nicole van Dam was also a member of the Speaker Board and the Science Strategy Board at iDiv, an iDiv Council member and Chair of the Female Scientist Career Fund. She is, among other positions, Chair of the International Society of Chemical Ecology (ISCE) and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Subtropical and Mediterranean Horticulture Institute (IHSM) in Malaga, Spain.
“It is with great enthusiasm that I take up my new position at the Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops (IGZ). The knowledge generated by the scientists at the IGZ makes an important contribution to global food security and the preservation of biodiversity, and of course also to the preservation and improvement of human health. I see it as a positive challenge to continue and further develop the IGZ’s mission to create scientific foundations for sustainable and healthy horticultural production.” Nicole van Dam, Director of Research of the IGZ from 01 October 2022.
“With Prof. Nicole van Dam, the IGZ is gaining a highly competent director of research who will provide new impulses for the institute’s research,” says Monika Schreiner, deputy director of research of the IGZ.
Nicole van Dam will head the new IGZ research group “Plants Biotic Interactions”. Their research mission is to decipher molecular and chemical mechanisms that control the interactions between plants and their biotic environment. To this end, results from studies of plant genes and the constituents formed in plants are combined with measurements of plant and insect performance. The plant samples needed will be collected from experiments in greenhouses and gardens, as well as from natural and agricultural ecosystems. The ultimate goal is to understand the role of mechanisms in the plant that enhance its performance. These include chemical diversity and plant resistance coping with insect pests. The knowledge gained forms the scientific basis for sustainable crop production and the reduction of pesticide use, one of the main goals of the European Union’s “From Farm-to-Fork Strategy”.
Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops
The Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops is a research institute of the Leibniz Association and contributes to solving current global challenges – such as preserving biodiversity and combating climate change and the unfortunately still widespread malnutrition – with scientifically sound findings from basic and applied research in horticulture. The Institute is jointly funded by the Ministry of Science, Research and Culture of the State of Brandenburg (MWFK) and the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL). The IGZ is located in Großbeeren.
The Leibniz Association brings together 97 independent research institutions. Their focus ranges from the natural sciences, engineering and environmental sciences to economics, spatial sciences, social sciences and the humanities. Leibniz institutes are dedicated to socially, economically and ecologically relevant issues. They conduct knowledge- and application-oriented research, also in the overarching Leibniz Research Associations, are or maintain scientific infrastructures and offer research-based services. The Leibniz Association focuses on knowledge transfer, especially with the Leibniz Research Museums. It advises and informs politics, science, industry and the public.
Press release: How do plants know when it is the right time to flower?
If you live in Europe, Japan or North America for example you will likely have seen all the spring flowers blossoming in the past months. By contrast, some plants – especially from hot climates, such as rice – prefer to flower when temperature is getting cooler. But how does a rice plant know when it […]
If you live in Europe, Japan or North America for example you will likely have seen all the spring flowers blossoming in the past months. By contrast, some plants – especially from hot climates, such as rice – prefer to flower when temperature is getting cooler. But how does a rice plant know when it is the right time to flower? In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, teams of researchers from Germany and Portugal have cracked this puzzle.
Using molecular genome editing methods (CRISPR/Cas9), the researchers removed the activity of key genes from the rice genome. This enabled them to show that genes called “ELF3” and “LUX” are essential for flowering in rice. These genes make proteins that directly switch off genes that prevent flowering. It turns out that ELF3 is inactivated in light: When days are long, there is little ELF3, so the floral repressors are active and block flowering. When days become shorter, the accumulation of ELF3 is enabled and flowering is activated.
The teams of researchers from the Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops (IGZ) in Germany and the Instituto de Tecnologia Química e Biológica António Xavier at the New University of Lisbon (ITQB NOVA) in Portugal worked together under the scope of the PhD program Plants for Life, with PhD student Luis Andrade, to decipher the molecular mechanisms underlying the regulation of the rice flowering time by the photoperiod.
“When we took away the genes encoding ELF3 and LUX, we were amazed, since we had created remarkable rice plants that never flowered.” Said the lead of the group in the ITQB in Portugal, Dr Nelson Saibo.
“This study shows how a major pathway, that controls the flowering of millions of rice plants and is ultimately a key source of nutrition for billions of people around the world, is actually controlled by a remarkably small number of master regulator genes, and how we are beginning to understand these key processes at a molecular level. How plants adapt to the environment is a major question, particularly during an era of climate change which is already altering plant flowering behaviour.” Said the lead author from the IGZ in Germany, Dr Katja Jaeger.
The full published study can be read here: “The evening complex integrates photoperiod signals to control flowering in rice”
Comprehending the connection between these changes in the components of the circadian clock and the different flowering times observed among the numerous rice varieties is the next step. “That will then allow, in a more targeted way, to adapt the different rice varieties and their flowering times to certain environmental conditions or regions,” says researcher Nelson Saibo. On-field application is also one of the main focuses for the future, as flowering is directly correlated with productivity. “By controlling the rice life cycle, we can potentially reduce the risks for rice cultivation,” says Luís Andrade. The manipulation of flowering time allows a better conciliation between the cultivation period and the environmental conditions, protecting the plants from potentially harmful situations, such as cold weather during the initial stages or drought and heat during the final growth stages, culminating in a likely increase in yield.
“10 Must-Knows” on biodiversty
Forest, COVID-19, Food and Extinction of Species: Research network publishes “10 Must Knows” on biodiversity “10 Must Knows from Biodiversity Science”, ranging from climate stress for German forests, the restructuring of agriculture to the corona virus that has jumped from animals to humans, were now published for the first time. More than 45 experts from […]
Forest, COVID-19, Food and Extinction of Species: Research network publishes “10 Must Knows” on biodiversity
“10 Must Knows from Biodiversity Science”, ranging from climate stress for German forests, the restructuring of agriculture to the corona virus that has jumped from animals to humans, were now published for the first time. More than 45 experts from the Leibniz Research Network Biodiversity and colleagues have compiled this inventory on the preservation of nature as the basis of human life. In the run-up to the World Summit on Nature – the UN Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, China – the report is intended to invite dialogue, the researchers say. At the same time, they voice clear policy demands.
„If we continue business as usual, we will undermine the foundations of our life on this planet,” explains Kirsten Thonicke from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, speaker of the Leibniz Research Network Biodiversity. “It is important not to look at individual phenomena such as a single species threatened with extinction but to look at the connections. In the end, it is about the air we breathe and the water we drink. We want to encourage people to tackle the challenges. The longer we delay, the more difficult and the more expensive it becomes – there are clear parallels here with the climate issue.”
Current stocktaking on biodiversity
- “Achieving climate and biodiversity protection together”: Ecosystems on land and the oceans have absorbed about 55% of human-made CO2 emissions in the past ten years. Destroying ecosystems such as peatlands or forests releases large quantities of greenhouse gases. Intact ecosystems therefore benefit the climate. In turn, a stable climate also benefits biodiversity. The extinction risk of tropical species could be halved if global warming was kept below 2°C, and one third of the land area was protected. Both, climate and biodiversity protection, have been agreed upon internationally or is currently being negotiated; the only thing lacking is their implementation.
- “Strengthening planetary health”: 75% of new infectious diseases – currently including COVID19 – are zoonoses, i. e. diseases transmitted from animals to humans. This can happen when humans increasingly encroach on natural areas, or in factory farming, which often already contributes to the destruction of nature by cultivating feed on what used to be untouched lands. Protecting ecosystems and reducing factory farming can therefore directly and indirectly benefit the health of people and nature.
- ”Consider hidden biodiversity”: Everyone wants to protect elephants or tigers, but life below the surface dies invisibly. In rivers and lakes, the number of larger vertebrates has decreased by 84%. More research on the death of microorganisms in the soil is urgently needed. The microorganisms below the ground are important for everything that grows on earth.
- “Promoting biocultural habitats”: A large part of the remaining 5,000 indigenous peoples on earth depend on an intact nature as hunters, gatherers, fishermen. Biodiversity and cultural diversity are closely related; for example 70% of all languages are spoken on only 24% of the earth’s surface, which also includes a great diversity of species. If we lose the languages, we also lose knowledge about biodiversity and its embeddedness in the environment.
- “Using forests sustainably”: After three drought years (2018-2020), 79% of all trees in German forests have less dense foliage. Many forests are becoming more susceptible to insect damage or fire due to climate stress. At the same time, forests are considered suppliers of climate-friendly raw materials because trees take CO2 out of the air and store it in the wood. The concept of sustainability, which originated in forestry, must be redefined here. Forests need management, for example through certification, the planting of new resilient species, or by supporting natural forest development.
- “Transforming agriculture”: The production of food for humanity – an enormous achievement – often contributes to the death of species through monocultures and too many pesticides and fertilisers. Only a few types of grain grow on 40% of the world’s harvested land, namely maize, wheat and rice. At the same time, almost 40% of plant diversity is threatened with extinction. In order for farmers to preserve biodiversity, they need financial incentive systems and advice, for example through German or EU agricultural policy.
- “Protecting land and resources”: 77% of the world’s land areas, with the exception of the ice-covered Antarctic, are already heavily modified by human use. Natural areas must therefore urgently be protected and additional areas renatured if they are to continue to provide their ecosystem services and contribute to climate protection. Expressing these services in euros and cents in order to manage them is not easy. It is currently unclear how much resource consumption humanity can still afford. But: As little as possible if it wants to minimise risks.
- “Expanding transnational infrastructures and education for sustainability”: Damage to nature often occurs along supply chains and in global production networks. Strategies such as the EU’s to protect biodiversity must therefore be transnational. But it also depends on citizens. More than 70% of all biodiversity data worldwide is collected by people active outside science. Citizen science is growing.
- “Ensuring access and open use of research data”: Sharing data is the basis for effective biodiversity management. For example, a relevant database of the INSDC (International Association of Gene Sequence Databases) already offers more than a quintillion gene sequences for free use worldwide – they help to identify new species through gene comparison or to detect changes in known organisms, for example in pathogens. Restricting access to data hinders research progress, more digitisation promotes it.
- “Setting biodiversity-friendly incentives”: Around 140 billion US dollars are spent annually on biodiversity conservation worldwide, from public and private funds – but 500 billion in public subsidies plus an estimated 2,600 billion in private investments in sectors that harm biodiversity. This imbalance could change if the financial sector included biodiversity impacts in investment risk assessments, as it is already increasingly doing with climate impacts. This would be an important lever for the conservation of our natural livelihoods.
Scientists from the following institutes played a leading role in the “10 Must Knows from Biodiversity Science”:
Leibniz Research Network Biodiversity:
- Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
- Academy for Territorial Development in the Leibniz Association
- Leibniz-Centre General Linguistics
- Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies
- Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops
- Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries
- Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development
- Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research
- Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research
- Museum für Naturkunde Berlin – Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science
- Senckenberg Society for Nature Research
- Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)
- German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
- University of Zurich
Voices of researchers who played a leading role in the “10 Must Knows from Biodiversity Science”:
Aletta Bonn, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv): “We need to address the biodiversity crisis together with the climate and health crisis. Biodiversity promotes our health – for example through food, medicines or through natural climate regulation. We know that birdsong and trees on our doorstep increase our life satisfaction and mental health, and protecting ecosystems means active pandemic prevention. There are many synergies here – healthy nature is good for us!”
Stephanie Kramer-Schadt, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research: “Wildlife and environmental aspects need to be included in health security priorities and plans, because the importance of wildlife health for human health and functioning ecosystems has been largely overlooked in global health and biodiversity strategies. Planetary health depends on the web of life being diverse – not only when it concerns keeping pathogens at bay, but also for the sake of nutrition and climate.”
Daniel Müller, Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies: “Misaligned economic incentives and market failures contributed to the biodiversity crisis. Policy measures that redirect market and investment behaviour towards conservation and restoration of biodiversity are therefore critical to solve the biodiversity crisis.”
Sibylle Schroer, Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries: “Investments in species conservation are often driven by empathy. We naturally feel less connected to species that we do not see, that might transmit diseases, or that live in habitats that are unfamiliar to us. Humans focus primarily on what can be perceived. Thus, changes of living community compositions in soil, sediment, water or at night are often underestimated, like for example artificial light at night as a driver of global change. But looking at such overseen habitats is fundamental to protecting the species we care about.”
Tonjes Veenstra, Leibniz Center for General Linguistics: “The natural habitat of indigenous peoples and local communities is becoming increasingly smaller due to deforestation and exploitation. But it is not only the loss of species in these biodiversity hotspots that is worrying, but also their languages, and thus their intricate knowledge of flora and fauna, are highly endangered. The acquisition of formal legal titles to their lands is key to the survival of these speech communities, so that they retain control over their habitat and protect it. This makes our planet in the end a more diverse and healthier place for us all.”
Barbara Warner, Academy for Territorial Development in the Leibniz Association: “Protection and development of landscapes, ecosystem services and nature are comprehensive social, political and economic goals and challenges at the same time – and central concerns of sustainable spatial development.”
Wolfgang Wende, Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development: “It is no longer sufficient by far to merely protect landscapes, ecosystems and biodiversity. The loss of biodiversity has already progressed so far that, in addition to much stricter protection, ecosystems and habitats must also be extensively restored. A net gain in biodiversity should be the goal of our society.”