Botany in Karlsruhe: older than the university

The lineage of genetics: without Karlsruhe botanist Kölreuter Mendel never had found his laws.
Baden revolutionary Hecker motivated Blankenberg to initiate, here in Karlsruhe, the first Wine Research institute, which later was continued in Freiburg.

Karlsruhe is among the younger universities in Germany and was orginally conceived as engineering school. Thus, one would assume that biology here is very young, too. Not even close! Karlsruhe Botany is older than the university and this story should, therefore, be told on these pages... more...

The Cradle of Plant Genetics

Only few know that the cradle of genetics stands in Karlsruhe - botanist Joseph Gottlieb Kölreuter demonstrated by a simple breakthrough experiment that both parents (not only the father, as was believed in those days) contribute symmetrically to inheritance. He crossed (after many futile attempts) two wild tobacco species differing in flower shape and could show that the children were intermediates of their parents. This experiment was not only awarded by the Russian Zar Katharin, but also, without knowing, founded genetics as a science. An entire century later, Mendel refers in great detail in his famous work the results by Kölreuter and derived from those his own experiments.

Wine and Revolution

The breeding of so-called PiWi-Grapes (for Pilz-Widerstandsfähig, fungi resistant) can reduce fungicide load in viticultu by 3/4. Few know that this success story initiated around 150 years ago here in Karlsruhe. After his political dreams had failed, the Badenic revolutionary Friedrich Hecker emigrated to the USA. There, he became winegrower and noticed the natural immunity of American wild grapevines against different diseases and pests. During a correspondence over almost two decades he convinced Adolph von Blankenhorn, who entertained in Karlsruhe a private wine research institute to use these robust wild grapevines to contain Phylloxera, which had invaded Europe. Hecker tried, in vain, to produce proper wine from those grapes, but the seeds that he sent to Blankenhorn schickte were the starting point for the nowadays common practice to graft the grapes on so-called "American rootstocks" to suppress the insect cycle. So far, this represents the economically most successful case of biological pest control worldwide. Shortly after, a cumbersome and lengthy breeding programme tried to backcross the wild grapes with domesticated grapes to get rid of the inpalatable taste (called foxiness). This German-French joint venture survived two world wars and after a century of breeding reached its success.

And Today?

This tradition, to use the natural biodiversity of grapevines for sustainable plant protection, lives on, for instance, in the worldwide unique collection of European Wild Grapevines (the ancestral mothers of our grapevines), where we could detect numerous resilience factors against diseases that are promoted by climate change. In October 2022 the Nick Lab launches the newest Interreg-Upper Rhien project Kliwiresse, which deals with the development of KliWi-Grapes (for Klima-Widerstandsfähig, climate resistant). mehr... In addition to protection and valorisation of biodiversity, we also work on new technologies to render plant breeding faster and more precise - in the Puchta Lab, new methods allow to exchange entire chromosomes in a targeted manner, such that one can try to re-domesticate crop plants, avoiding the imbalances and mistakes of the past, such as the loss of stress resilience. more...

And in the Future?

The Botanical Garden is crucial for the research at the Botanical Institute and helps to generate, based on the knowledge from fundamental research, new applications that are very useful for society. The relevance of a Botanical Garden is not (anymore) debated at the KIT. The commitment, to build, from 2024, in the Kornblumenstraße a new research institution, means that both, the KIT presidium as well as the State of Baden-Württemberg will maintain the garden also in the future. more...




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