Jun 25, 2010
Whenever Thomas Schmülling looks out his office window, he’s sure to see one thing: plants. The Applied Genetics buildings on Albrecht-Thaer-Weg are located amid fields, forest, and meadows – green as far as the eye can see. It’s wonderful, says Schmülling, head of the department of Applied Genetics and Chair of Molecular Developmental Biology of Plants. Plus, the building is located on historic ground. After all, this is the very site where, in 1922, the Heredity Research Institute (Institut für Vererbungsforschung) of the Prussian Royal Agricultural College (Königlich Preussische Landwirtschaftliche Hochschule) was founded – “the first of its kind in Germany,” Schmülling says.
But the location’s history isn’t the only thing that makes Dahlem the ideal location for a new plant research center; the present-day academic work done on the Dahlem campus and its physical surroundings also offer optimum conditions. The Dahlem Centre of Plant Sciences (DCPS) is the name of the research center, which officially started work at the end of 2009. Thomas Schmülling is the spokesperson for the new institution, to which approximately 250 scientists and researchers from various fields of plant research at Freie Universität Berlin belong.
The idea of a joint center has existed for a long time. The university’s Institute of Biology is home to various disciplines that deal with plants: applied genetics, developmental biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, plant physiology, animal ecology, systematic botany and plant geography, taxonomy, and pharmaceutical biology.
The plant scientists at the Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum are also affiliated with Freie Universität Berlin. “Our goal is to bring together these different areas and thereby open up new fields of research,” Schmülling explains. In the end, the deciding factor was a call for proposals issued by the Center for Cluster Development at Freie Universität, which supports scientists and scholars in developing new research alliances: Together with Reinhard Kunze, a professor of molecular plant genetics, and Professor Thomas Borsch, Director of the Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum, Schmülling developed a concept that included suggestions for how the university’s various “green” research institutions could work together more closely in the future. The intent behind the DCPS is to create a shared overall structure that encompasses the various disciplines involved in plant research at the university.
The proposal was approved. For an initial funding period to last until 2011, the DCPS is supporting interdisciplinary projects in three segments: “diversity and function,” “plants and the environment,” and “applied plant sciences.” Within the “plants and the environment” field of research, ecologists, molecular biologists, and developmental biologists are working together on the question of how the root systems of plants affect life underground. In another project, ecologists and plant biologists are studying the interactions between plants and insects. “The exciting thing about cooperative projects like this is not only finding answers together, but also agreeing on a common language when it comes to addressing these scientific problems,” Schmülling says.
The university also hopes that the DCPS will promote cooperation in the plant sciences within the wider region. In addition to the center itself, the Berlin area is home to a great many institutions that engage in plant research.
With the plant biologists from Humboldt-Universität and the University of Potsdam, the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam’s Golm district, and the Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops in the town of Grossbeeren, the DCPS has outstanding prospects of making the plant research done in Berlin even better known internationally, DCPS spokesperson Schmülling says with conviction. He and his colleagues are confident that the center will become established, not only quickly, but also for the long term. As plant researchers, they think less in terms of funding periods and more often in terms of generations, anyway.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Schmülling
Institute of Biology