What we do

Welcome in the Nick-Lab

Molecular Cell Biology (Prof. Dr. Peter Nick)

Fritz-Haber-Weg, Gbd. 30.43 (Biology Tower), 5. floor. e-mail. How to find us

Interview in Biospektrum

Living is Searching (Springer-Nature 2023)





the journal with the longest tradition in cell biology (Springer-Nature). We publish it. more...



Public Symposium, 05.10.-06.10.2023 on occasion of the new institute. Venue NTI auditory, free of charge, symposium language English. Programme.

Karlsruhe botany looks back on a long history that even predates the Polytechnikum that later turned into the KIT. The name of Joseph Gottlieb Kölreuter stands for a science that from the beginning was interested in the impact on society. His pioneering experiments that gave rise to a new science, genetics, were motivated by the question, whether both parents are symmetric when it comes to inheritance. He could solve this and contradicted the prevailing opinion of his time, which was convinced that women are just vessels for the development of the male sperm into an embryo. The JKIP continues this tradition - the plant sciences must serve society. Currently, the task consists in preparing crop plants for the challenges of climate change. The symposium will, therefore, not only recall the historic contribution of Karlsruhe botany, but also report on the current research into plant resilience.

The Origin of Grapevine

Four years of hard work, almost 4000 genomes - the fruit of this effort has now been published in Science. The Wild Grapevine Collection of the KIT had an important role here. It could be shown that Grapevine was domesticated twice independently, once in the Caucasus to produce wine, a second time in the Near East to get table grapes. During its migration to the West, there were numerous love affairs with local wild grapevines, giving rise to the large diversity of grapevines. This project joined people from 16 countries, despite sometimes difficult political circumstances and allows a deep look into the complex history of this crop plant that not only founded civilisations, but was also one of the first globally traded goods, breaching the borders of geography, language, and religion. The treasure of knowledge generated in this project has not even been scratched - during the time, when grapevine, by an interplay between climatic disruptions and human migration, conquered many regions, it collected genes that help to cope with adverse conditions. These genes can help now to safeguard viticulture against the consequences of climate change - this is exactly, what we do now in our Interreg Upper Rhine project Kliwiresse.

Science article

Interview with the Washington Post

Press release by the KIT

Youtube on the impact of the project for the region

Salty Wine

An often neglected consequece of climate change is the increase of soil salinity - rising sea levels, but also artificial irrigation make more and more soild go lost. A joint project funded by the German and the Tunisian Ministry of Science investigated this for grapevine. During a comparative study, we could show that a wild grapevine that had been found in the Atlas mountains, can grow even under severe salinity, although it takes up the salt and transfers it to the leaves. Together with the Max-Rubner Institute we can show that the metabolic processes in the leaves are tuned in a more robust manner, such that the accumulation of dangerous reactive oxygen species can be avoided. This allows the wild grapevine to assign its resources preferentially for photosynthesis. Thus, there is not a miracle molecule of resilience, resilience rather appears to be a more efficiently orchestrated connection of different metabolic processes. This work has now appeared in the high ranking journal Plant Physiology .


199. Daldoul S, Gargouri M, Weinert C, Jarrar A, Egert B, Mliki A, Nick P (2023) A Tunisian Wild Grape Leads to Metabolic Fingerprints of Salt Tolerance. Plant Physiology - pdf

Press release of the KIT

The Campus as Space for Life


Climate change is not only affecting Nature, it is also making life in human ecosystems more and more difficult. Heat waves will hit our cities more often than in the past and they will be more massive. Trees can help us to mitigate the challenge. By their transpiration, they can cool air temperature by more than 5 degrees, and their shade gives shelter to humans and animals alike. However, more and more urban trees suffer from Dieback and have to be cut down, also in Karlsruhe, also at our Campus. What can we do against it? How can we find out, to what degree a tree is stressed and what it needs to recover again? In frame of the project Renature, we will, together with partners at the Campus Alpin, ITAS, and the University Freiburg, use our longstanding expertise in plant stress to assess the stress status of trees in the Campus and develop a science based strategy for stress management. This project was among the three that were selected for the kick-off of the new Innovation Campus Sustainability of KIT and the University of Freiburg.

During the last four years, we have been working in the grassroot network Klima - Inititative - Technologie (K-I-T) to for a sustainable improvement of the Campus as Ecosystem. Renature will help uns in using science for transformation. Not only for the sake of us humans that want to live and work here, but also for the sake of other life forms, for which we bear responsibility.






The new "Strasburger"

127 years ago Eduard Strasburger founded the textbook of botany, which appeared now in the 38. edition - this makes the "Strasburger" the biology textbook with the longest history. Peter Nick contributed a couple of 100 pages to the topics structure and function of the plant body and plant development. The "Strasburger" pursues the goal to depict the entire knowledge on plants, comprehensively, up-to-date, and at the same time filtered. Even though it had never been easier to acquire information, the problem is progressively to filter relevant from irrelevant. Textbooks are, therefore, not outdated, but more important than ever. more...


The State Teaching Award 2015 was given to Peter Nick and Mathias Gutmann. The money was used to found the Forum. Beyond faculties and disciplines, we debate here on controversial topics.



Cells Need Competence

In biotechnology, cells are often called "biomass". This sounds a bit as if the nature of the cell does not matter, as long as the right gene is introduced by genetic engineering. In the real world, the individuality of the producing cell is crucial. This can be shown for medicinally relevant plant compounds that are often produced in a "team work" of several cell types, whereby each cell type drives a different, specific, chemical reaction. We have addressed this point using Catharanthus roseus, a medicinal plant from Madagascar, where we try to reconstruct the synthesis of the anti-tumour compound vincristine in cell cultures. Around 200 kg leaf material is needed for 1 mg, which makes this compound very expensive. Since the 1960ies people have tried to generate this compound in cell culture, in vain. We suspected that this different cell types need to cooperate, as it is the case in real plant tissues. In cooperatoin with the company Phyton from Ahrensburg we searched for different cell types and found two strains, Cat1 and Cat4, that activate different branches of the metabolism that are mutually exclusive and even suppressive. These cells are endowed with a quite different metabolic competence. However, when we were feeding the Cat4 cells with the precursor made from the Cat1 cells and activated defence metabolism by the stress hormone jasmonic acid, we were able, for the first time, to detect vincristine and to demonstrate by mass spectroscopy that it was really vincristine. The amounts are still very low, unfortunately, but this work shows that it is principally possible, if one more seriously considers the diversity and individuality of plant cells and their differential metabolic competence.



190. Raorane ML, Manz C, Hildebrandt S, Mielke M, Thieme A, Keller J, Bunzel M, Nick P (2023) Cell type matters: competence for alkaloid metabolism differs in two seed-derived cell strains of Catharanthus roseus. Protoplasma 260, 349-369 - pdf



Wild Wax Withstands Climate Change

Climate Change has already reached our region. How can we adapt our agriculture? Even viticulture is suffering from the heat, although grapevine with its deep roots should be prepared better than other crop plants. The progressively massive summer heat shifts plants into a conundrum – to protect photosynthesis against excessive temperatures, transpiration through the stomata needs to increase, to keep the progressively constrained water from the soil, they need to close. How do desert plants solve this? By covering their leaves with wax, such that solar radiation is reflected and cannot penetrate into the leaf. Our domesticated grape varieties have only a thin wax layer. However, we discovered that the European Wild Grapevine, the ancestor of our domesticated grapevine, can accumulate much more of surface wax. Can we valorise this for breeding? The answer is yes – we could show that this trait is hardwired in the genes of the European Wild Grapevine. An unexpected side effect is that the spores of Powdery Mildew, a pathogen that is on the rise due to the warmer climate, is impeded by this thick wax layer. These spores need considerably longer to form so called appressoria. This gives the plant more time to launch its defence.


201. Ge XS, Hetzer B, Tisch C, Kortekamp A, Nick P (2023) Surface wax in the ancestral grapevine Vitis sylvestris correlate with partial resistance to Powdery Mildew. BMC Plant Biology 23, 304 - pdf






Genetic Barcodes Crack Forensic Enigma

Since many years, we work on methods to unveil fake and surrogation of plant-based food, but also medicinal products using so-called DNA barcods. Our taxonomically carefully identified and developed collection of reference plants in the JKIP Experimental Station at the Adenauerring has been crucial to this work. Our work is often thematised in the media, just recently in a broadcast of the Hessische Rundfunk on Superfood that was then also shown by NDR, WDR, ARD and MDR (see video...). This echo has induced interest from those institutions that in Germany are in charge of food safety. Here, we obtained, in the middle of the Corona period, an unusual request by the Chemical Veterinary Investigation Office in Freiburg - they had to deal with several cases of animal poisoning, whether we could support them? We could - using a combination of microscopic diagnostics and DNA barcoding we could solve all cases. The usual method, where species are assigned through a statistic value of sequence similarity, was refined for this purpose. We used (statistically ignored) specific sequence motifs as genetic fingerprints - this approach is known in evolution research as homology by specific quality. This forensic study has now been published in PloS ONE:

204. Schweikle S, Häser A, Wetters S, Raisin M, Greiner M, Fischer U, Pietsch K, Suntz M, Nick P (2023) DNA barcoding as new diagnostic tool to lethal plant poisoning in herbivorous mammals. PloS ONE 18, e0292275 - pdf

What our research is about

Life is not easy. There are two ways to cope – animals run away, plants adapt. We want to understand, how. The key are plant cells, since they mediate shape, adaptation and the enormous diversity of plants.




Evolution solves problems in a sustainable, highly diverse manner. Can we valorise this diversity? We work to protect and use diversity. We develop methods, to safeguard consumer protections in times of globalisation. more... Amaranth, the Superfood of the Inka, as functional food. Wir try to raise the content of Omega-3-Fatty Acids, to develop a vegan alternative for sea fish (EU-CORNET, 2020-2022) together with the University of Hohenheim and partners from Peru. more...
Plants are masters of adaptation. How do they overcome stress? We work on jasmonic acid, the plant "adrenalin", but also about the immune system of grapevine. more.. Ecosystem on chip for sustainable plant protection (Interreg Science Offensive, 2019-2022). more...
Plant cells can self organise without a "Big Brother". The ability of each individual cells to acquire its own direction, is central. How does this work? more... Cold resistance of strawberries (BMBF, 2018-2020)