Actualia (engl.) · Conference Report

Botanikertagung 2011: a retrospective

About 900 plant scientists from 30 different countries came to Berlin to visit the international Botanikertagung. The motto this time was "diversity makes the difference". Presenting more than 210 talks and 700 scientific posters ranging over all plant science disciplines the meeting provided an excellent update on current research. In the open evening lecture, Professor Wilhelm Gruissem addressed the issue how to feed the world in 2050. He also explained the importance of plant sciences, modern breeding techniques and genetic engineering.
Conference gleanings by Professor Dr. Reinhard Kunze and Professor Dr. Bernhard Grimm

Diversity makes the Difference was the motto of the Botanikertagung 2011 organized from September 18th – 22nd, 2011 by plant scientists from Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität Berlin in the Henry-Ford-Building on the campus of the Freie Universität Berlin under the auspices of the German Botanical Society (Deutsche Botanische Gesellschaft – DBG).

900 Participants from 32 Countries

This Conference is held every other year and evolved to one of the greatest international congresses in plant science, most likely also to the biggest plant science congress in Europe . We agreed to organize the Botanikertagung in a combined action. As congress presidents we had the pleasure to welcome 900 delegates from 32 different countries who registered to the conference. Almost 50 % of the participants registered were students or doctoral students. Therefore, it became very apparent that young research groups, postdoctoral fellows and students dominated the conference and left their impressive marks on the conference.

Berlin has hosted the German Botanical Conference already three times. The first Botanical Conference was held in 1932 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Botanical society. The second conference took place in 1992, two years after the reunification of Germany and Berlin . And this year, 19 years after the last conference in Berlin, it turned out that the Henry-Ford-Building is indeed an excellent conference venue with its huge audimax and four lecture halls, a spacious and aerial entrance hall and several galleries for poster presentations and industrial exhibition.

Plant Sciences and the Focus of the Public

The motto “Diversity makes the Difference” was coinstantaneously highly challenging. With an emphasis on molecular and cell biology, stress physiology and ecology we wished to emphasize the diversity of plant species and their interactions with the biotic and abiotic environment, as well as the diversity of exploratory disciplines in basic and applied plant sciences and emerging novel technologies. The high interdisciplinarity of these topics ensured a rather comprehensive and voluminous lecture and poster program. Fourteen plenary lectures of internationally renowned speakers, 30 symposia with 40 keynote presentations and approximately 160 short talks and more than 700 poster presentations covered a wide range of these topics. Thus, it is obvious that the program reflects the activities and favorite areas of plant science research at German universities and national research institutions, which are certainly a substantial part of international high quality research. The entire conference with a multi-facetted program of oral and poster presentations successfully ensured an excellent forum for the exchange of new information in modern plant science, e.g. genetics, applied botany and agriculture, which are in the focus of cutting-edge research and the public view.

Interdisciplinary Exchange and Individual Highlights

Current research presented on the conference deals with the enormous complexity of regulatory networks for the plant interaction with environment, symbionts and pathogens. Plant traits reflect a bundle of cellular responses that converge or divide into multiple cellular reactions leading to a concert of changes in gene expression and metabolite homeostasis. This complexity requires intensive cooperation, interdisciplinary exchange of information, high throughput technology as well as predictable and long-term-funding. We are aware of the difficulties to select scientific highlights. But the great multiplicity of topics and personalities of the speakers made it possible that every attendee could pick up the own personal highlight. Taking into consideration the high number of submitted abstracts the sessions on host-pathogen interaction, on abiotic stress physiology, on developmental biology, on secondary metabolism and on structure, functions and dynamics of membranes were at the heart of the Botanical Conference and were well received among the delegates.

Feeding Future Populations Requires Plant Engineering

This conference also drew attention to environmental, biological and economical implications that are challenging tasks for future research in plant science. Can crop plants feed the world population in future in spite of environmental disasters, climate changes and the loss of biodiversity? Can the world population in future still be served with food, energy and other resources? How can cellular response against adverse conditions be optimized? How can knowledge about regulatory and protective mechanisms in model plants be transferred into applications of crop plants? These highly controversial topics were brilliantly called to our attention and discussed with the audience by Prof. Wilhelm Gruissem, ETH Zürich, in a public evening lecture. On behalf of all of plant scientists he made a strong case for modern plant breeding that consequently and logically continues with methods of genetic engineering enabling a direct improvement of crop quality traits and tolerances against adverse environmental conditions and pathological impacts. In this context we emphasize the combined session on crop improvements, agronomic traits and optimized plant usage in which also alternative genetic approaches to generate genetically modified organisms as well as consequences of restrictive and limiting legislation have been discussed.

Outstanding Plant Scientists Awarded

On the occasion of the botanical conference several awards have been given to outstanding young scientists. The Strasburger prize sponsored by Spektrum Akademischer Verlag was awarded by Hans-Henning Kunz, Institut für Botanik, Universität Köln. He succeeded to demonstrate that β-oxidation fatty acids provide substantial energy equivalents in darkness when photosynthetic energy was consumed. The Wilhelm Pfeffer prize of the Deutsche Botanische Gesellschaft (DBG) was awarded for exceptional doctoral studies on the elucidation of the molecular mechanism of regulatory balance between the plant input into plant growth versus investment into stress tolerance and given to Dr. Marco Todesco (Max-Planck Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie). Dr. Alexandra Furch from the Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen received the Horst-Wiehe-Award for the functioning of forisomes in sieve elements as a small calcium-driven motor for the protection against pathogenic invaders. These awards underline the high quality and excellence of German young scientists and German plant science.

Young Scientists Received Poster Awards

The presented 742 posters allowed an intensive scientific communication and exchange of expertise. The first-class posters were awarded for excellent, informative and well presented posters. Poster awards were given in final award ceremony by the president of German Botanical Society, Prof. Ulf-Ingo Flügge to Simone Altmann (Institut für Biochemie und Biologie, Universität Potsdam), Ramona Kern (Institut für Pflanzenphysiologie, Universität Rostock), Katharina Bürstenbinder (Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie, Halle), Sophia Aldous (Institut für Entwicklungs- und molekulare Pflanzenbiologie, Universität Düsseldorf), Tina Seidensticker (Institut für Pflanzengenetik und Kulturpflanzenforschung Gatersleben), Ana Cosme (Biozentrum Martinsried, LMU München), Sabine Marschollek (Institut für Botanik, TU Dresden), Kathleen Dahnke (Institut für Pflanzenphysiologie, FU Berlin), Petra Wirsching (Molekulare Pflanzenphysiologie, Universität Erlangen), Clara Sánchez-Rodríguez (MPI für molekulare Pflanzenphysiologie, Potsdam–Golm).

Strengths of Plant Research

Looking back on four days filled with exciting and informative presentations we are convinced that Botanikertagung 2011 in Berlin - like all the get-togethers of plant science every second year - was very important for all participants. The Botanical Conference represented high standard plant science in Germany and emphasize the strength of research in plant science at German universities and national research institutions. It was an excellent choice for the presentation of the scientific highlights and the beginning or continuation of collaboration and a forum for intensive discussion: We express our thanks to our sponsors Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and Fonds der Chemischen Industrie. With their support it was possible to invite 64 international and national speakers for the plenary and key note talks.

In 2013 we will meet again. Then colleagues from Tübingen will organized and invite to the Botanikertagung 2013 from September 30th to October 4th 2013. We will be pleased to see all of you again and we look forward to an inspiring scientific program.

Berlin, Dezember 2011, Professor Reinhard Kunze and Professor Bernhard Grimm