Obituary: Professor Dr. Margret Sauter (1959 – 2023)

Prof. Dr. Margret Sauter in her Institute in Kiel. Photo: private

Plant scientist Professor Dr. Margret Sauter in Kiel passed away at the beginning of January at the age of 63. In their obituary, Emese Eysholdt-Derzsó, Nils Stührwohldt, Romy Schmidt-Schippers and Angelika Mustroph remember a passionate physiologist to the end, who not only published ground-breaking research results on plant hormones, low-oxygen stress reactions and growth factors in renowned journals, but also shaped well known science journals with her expertise as editorial board member. In her group in Kiel she supported the careers of numerous early career researchers from Germany and abroad if the research approach was convincing. For our Section Plant Physiology and Molecular Biology she organized the Molecular Biology of Plants Conference in Dabringhausen in 2014 and supported our Society to identify good plant science master theses.

Margret Sauter was born in 1959 in Mengen/ Baden-Württemberg, where she also spent her childhood. She began her studies in biology in 1978 at the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen. Already during her undergraduate studies, she spent some time in the USA at the San Jose State University in California. In 1984, she graduated and began her doctoral studies in Tübingen. During her thesis and doctoral studies, she worked in the laboratory of Professor Achim Hager on possible interactions between calcium and auxin. In 1987, she received her doctorate on this topic and remained at the University of Tübingen as a postdoc until 1989.

Research on deepwater rice, plant hormones and growth factors

In 1989 she moved to the laboratory of Professor Hans Kende at Michigan State University in the USA, who was very successful in working on various aspects related to plant hormones. In the 1980s, he established research on deepwater rice, and Margret Sauter began working on this model system in his laboratory. She remained interested in this research topic even after she returned to Germany. She began working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hamburg in 1994, where she completed her habilitation in 1997. In 2003, Margret Sauter was appointed Professor of Developmental Biology and Physiology of Plants at the Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany, where she actively conducted research until last year.

In the course of her many years of research, she devoted herself to the study of the phenomenon of deepwater rice at the cellular, hormonal and molecular biological levels. Of particular note is her work on adventitious root growth and development, observing an influence of mechanical forces as well as programmed cell death in the epidermis, published in The Plant Cell as well as New Phytologist in 2009. Until recently, she has been involved in many facets of research on plant responses to low-oxygen stress and has collaborated with national and international scientists, e.g., Ole Pedersen (University of Copenhagen), Mikio Nakazono and Motoyouki Ashikari (Nagoya University), Julia Bailey-Serres (University of Riverside), and Markus Schwarzländer (University of Münster). As a long-standing member of the International Society for Plant Anaerobiosis (ISPA, now ISPLORE), she was highly regarded among colleagues.

Margret Sauter was also among the pioneers in the field of peptide growth factors. Next to the research group of Professor Yoshikatsu Matsubayashi from Japan, she established herself in the research field of phytosulfokines. Her work on these peptide hormones focused on the analysis of the signal transduction pathway at the genetic and physiological level from peptide-receptor interactions to the identification of transcription factors involved. The effect of the di-sulfated pentapeptide has been investigated by several generations of graduate students and led to various, worldwide recognized publications in Plant Cell, Plant Physiology as well as Journal of Experimental Botany. For the phytosulfokine world, Margret Sauter's work has played a major role in the current understanding of the signal transduction pathway.

Due to her many achievements in research, she served on the DFG review board from 2020 and onwards, and was a long-time member of the editorial board at Journal of Plant Growth Regulation and Journal of Experimental Botany. For these tasks her broad scientific knowledge was highly appreciated.

Early love of nature and encouragement of students from all countries

Margret Sauter’s enthusiasm for flora and fauna was born during her childhood, which she preferred to spend outdoors together with her many siblings. Thus, she learnt to assert herself when necessary and, quite uncharacteristically for those times, had the heart to drive a tractor. The high school she attended in Mengen, where she majored in natural sciences and graduated in 1978, was the starting point for her subsequent impressive career as an internationally recognized biologist.

As a group leader, Prof. Sauter was very dedicated to promoting female scientists and was keen to ensure that women, especially those with children, could remain active in research. For this, she received great recognition from her group members. In addition, she was committed to treat students from different backgrounds equally and often accepted doctoral students from abroad, e.g., from China and India, to offer them the chance to do a doctorate in Germany. Among other things, she helped to establish the "Kiel Plant Center" network. In general, she was passionate about supervising students in the context of their theses. Her interest in, and appreciation of the members of her group, went beyond the professional; for example, she was delighted with every new addition to the family. However, for herself she clearly separated her work life from her private life.

Passion for research to the end

Margret Sauter always took a critical view of research and the plans and ideas that went with it, which is why in some cases it took some convincing through her staff members to pursue a particular project strategy. However, if this was successful, one could be sure of her full support. Despite many successful collaborations in the course of her career, she preferred to work as an independent researcher.

The chronically persistent medical condition that accompanied Margret Sauter for many decades never kept her from devoting herself to her research with the greatest enthusiasm. Thus, despite her deteriorating health in the last months, she was passionately involved in her own projects as well as in the correspondence with her cooperation partners, with whom she maintained a friendly relationship for the most part, until the end. Her last published experiments were presented at the recent meeting on Molecular Biology of Plants in February in Hennef, where a session was dedicated to her. We, the members of her working group, the colleagues with focus on hypoxia in Germany and the international members of ISPLORE, as well as all long-time companions, deeply regret the surprising, too early farewell of Professor Margret Sauter and keep her in vivid and warm memory.


In February 2023

Emese Eysholdt-Derzsó (Kiel), Nils Stührwohldt (Hohenheim), Romy Schmidt-Schippers (Bielefeld), Angelika Mustroph (Bayreuth)