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08.09.2015

Plant geneticist Detlef Weigel to receive Mendel Medal

The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina bestows the Mendel Medal upon its Member Detlef Weigel, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen.


Tübingen, September 18, 2015. The Leopoldina honors his outstanding achievements in the fields of developmental and evolutionary genetics. Weigel will receive the Mendel Medal on September 18, 2015, at the ceremonial opening of the Leopoldina's Annual Assembly, which will also be attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Detlef Weigel (born 1961) has made important discoveries across plant biology, including flower development and control of flowering time. In their early work, Weigel and his team transferred the flower identity gene LEAFY from the model plant Arabidopsis to aspens, which shortened the onset of flowering from ten years to just a few month. These findings provided a proof of concept that control genes from the herbaceous, short-lived weed Arabidopsis can be effectively used to alter development and physiology of very different species, including trees. In addition, their discovery pointed the way towards dramatic acceleration of breeding programs due to earlier flowering, which in turn enables much faster crossing.

During the last decade, the focus of Weigel's research has turned to genetic diversity within species and the behavior of hybrids. His group discovered how conflict within the plant immune system can lead to autoimmunity, in a syndrome known as hybrid necrosis. Progeny of individuals with divergent immune systems may mistake proteins contributed by one of the parents as pathogen derived. In the most extreme cases, they die because of excessive autoimmunity. This phenomenon is widespread, and well known to cereal breeders, where it constitutes an impediment to crossing programs.

Weigel studied biology and chemistry in Bielefeld and Cologne, and received his doctorate in genetics in 1988 from the university of Tübingen. After postdoctoral work at Caltech in Pasadena (USA), he was an Assistant and Associate Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla (USA), before joining the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, where he founded the Department of Molecular Biology in 2003. Detlef Weigel, a dual German and US citizen, is a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and of the US National Academy of Sciences and a Foreign Member of the Royal Society.

The Mendel Medal commemorates Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), the founder of genetics. It was established on occasion of the 100th anniversary of the first public presentation of Mendel’s seminal findings in 1865. With this award, the Leopoldina honors pioneering achievements in the field of general and molecular genetics. Previous winners include the Nobel laureates Max Delbrück and Sydney Brenner, both pioneers of modern genetics, the evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, and the microbiologist Regine Kahmann.


Contact:

Nadja Winter (Public Relations)
Phone: +49 7071 601-444
E-mail: presse-eb(at)tuebingen.mpg.de

About us:
The Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology conducts basic research in the fields of biochemistry, genetics and evolutionary biology. It employs about 360 people and is located at the Max Planck Campus in Tübingen. The Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology is one of 83 research institutes that the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science maintains in Germany.


Prof. Dr. Detlef Weigel

The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina bestows the Mendel Medal upon its Member Detlef Weigel, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen. From the left: Prof. Dr. Jörg Hacker, President of the Leopoldina; Prof. Dr. Detlef Weigel; Prof. Dr. Jutta Schnitzer-Ungefug, Secretary-General of the Leopoldina. Picture: Christof Rieken/Leopoldina