01.04.2017 12:49

€ 5 million for joint proposal from Düsseldorf, Jülich and Co-logne

Alexander von Humboldt Professor Wolf B. Frommer takes up office

CEPLAS, the Cluster of Excellence at Heinrich Heine University Düs-seldorf (HHU), and the Collaborative Research Centre in the field of molecules and membrane systems are about to benefit from prestigious reinforcement: Researcher and biologist Professor Wolf B. Frommer, who until recently worked in Stanford, arrives today as Alexander von Humboldt Professor at HHU’s newly established Institute of Molecular Physiology. He will also work in Cologne and Jülich. HHU was namely successful, together with the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne (MPIPZ) and Jülich Research Centre, in securing the best endowed German research prize. The professorship has been granted funds to the tune of € 5 million.

Caption: Wolf B. Frommer joined HHU on 1 April 2017 as Alexander von Humboldt Professor. (Photo: Sebastian Wagner – Alexander von Humboldt Foundation/Elbmotion)

“Wolf B. Frommer will play a key role in advancing plant research at HHU and in the CEPLAS Cluster of Excellence. He will especially contribute his unique expertise in the field of nanosensors,” says Professor Andreas Weber, speaker for the Cluster of Excellence for Plant Research (CEPLAS) typo3/#_msocom_1at HHU. Professor Frommer’s research programme is broad and multifaceted. In Düsseldorf he is setting up a research group on transport processes that will work closely together with both the plant and the membrane biologists. He will also contribute his expertise in the area of self-regulatory processes in human blood sugar levels to research projects in Collaborative Research Centre 974 at HHU on the topic of liver damage and regeneration. He has been given laboratories in Düsseldorf for both plant and animal cell cultures. Also at his disposal are all the technical infrastructures of CEPLAS. This includes mass spectrometers, imaging equipment and HHU’s bioinformatics resources. Frommer has also been appointed as full professor for plant biology and in this capacity will be actively involved in teaching.

Professor Frommer on his move from the USA to Germany: “The successful CEPLAS research cluster and the University’s extraordinary support made the far-reaching decision to return to Germany very easy for me. I’m convinced that the scientific environment here has at least as much potential as in Stanford.”

Apart from the infrastructure at his disposal at HHU, Professor Frommer will also be given offices and laboratories at the MPIPZ in Cologne where he will especially be able to use its crop plant breeding facilities: Greenhouses and test fields for the cultivation of maize, for example. His work in Cologne will focus on crop yields and resistance to pathogens. He is also planning to work closely together with the Institute of Bio- and Geosciences – Plant Sciences (IBG-2) at Jülich Research Centre.

Professor Anja Steinbeck, HHU President, sees in Professor Frommer’s appointment - apart from his international reputation - the tremendous significance for HHU as an institution: “With the Alexander von Humboldt professorship, we will be able to further enhance collaboration between the institutions involved in his appointment and also consolidate the CEPLAS Cluster of Excellence in the long term.” Professor Steinbeck particularly underlines the speed with which appointment negotiations were completed: “Whilst the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation allowed a time period of a year to hold negotiations with the designated professor – which in many cases fails – we were able to bring matters to a successful close within just a few weeks.”

About Wolf B. Frommer

Wolf B. Frommer was born in Bonn. He studied biology at the University of Cologne. After his doctoral degree there, he moved to FU Berlin where he earned his postdoctoral qualification (Habilitation) in 1994 in Plant Physiology. In 1990, he took charge of a group at the Institut für Genbiologische Forschung GmbH (IGF) in Berlin (now the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Golm near Potsdam). In 1996, he accepted the call to the Chair of Plant Physiology at the University of Tübingen where he became Director of the Centre for Plant Molecular Biology in 1997. In 2003, he moved to the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, USA, where he was Director of the Plant Biology Department from 1997 to 2016. He also held a professorship at Stanford University. In October 2016, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation selected Wolf B. Frommer as a Humboldt Professor at the suggestion of HHU, the MPIPZ in Cologne and Jülich Research Centre. He took up this post on 1 April 2017.

Professor Frommer is a researcher with many interests who has a distinguished record both in plant biology as well as human medicine. He is particularly interested in the role of transport proteins, amongst others in plant metabolism and here in particular the regulatory processes in the absorption and distribution of nutrients. One of his developments in this area (in 2002) was a nanosensor technology which can be used to study metabolic processes in living organisms in a minimally invasive way. Originally intended for sugar, he was able to extend this nanosensor technology to other interesting molecules: Amino acids, hormones, neurotransmitters, specific cancer markers. In 2010, he described a new class of special sugar transport molecules (“SWEETS”) that play an important role in many biological processes, such as in the immune system where they ward off pathogens. This is now leading, for example, to the development of disease-resistant rice varieties.

Wolf B. Frommer’s list of publications numbers some 300 papers, many of them in renowned journals such as Nature and Science. He has received a large number of prizes and awards for his research work, including the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation in 1996, the Körber European Science Prize, a fellowship of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2003, the Laurence Bogorad Prize and admission to the Leopoldina, the German National Academy of Sciences, in 2015.

Alexander von Humboldt Professorship

The Alexander von Humboldt professorship enables German universities to offer top minds from abroad internationally competitive conditions and to hone their own profile in the global contest. The professorship is endowed with up to € 5 million and thus the highest international research award in Germany. The award acknowledges the world’s leading researchers in all disciplines who have so far been working abroad. The intention is for them to conduct ground-breaking research at German universities on a long-term basis. The prize money is earmarked for the first five years of research work in Germany. HHU will continue to support the professorship after sponsorship by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation comes to an end.

One of the conditions of the prize is the obligation to offer the new Humboldt professors a long-term perspective for their research work in Germany. The endowment is awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

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