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Claus Frohberg: The Plant Inspector

How can we boost yields in wheat plants? Dr. Claus Frohberg from Bayer in Ghent, Belgium, is looking for answers. This biologist is a keen gardener and plant enthusiast who applies the same passion to his research work.

A plant is the result of the interplay between its genome and the environment in which it grows. This is what makes plant research so difficult – but also so incredibly exciting.

Dr. Claus Frohberg aims to make wheat more productive.

Since I’m working at a computer in my office all day, I like to use the short breaks to check up on ‘my’ plants in the greenhouses. When I walk along the rows of pots, I inspect the wheat plants inside of them, which grow well under the artificial light. While I’m in there, I don’t mind the heat. It makes me even forget a cold winter’s day.

Our Daily Bread – and Pasta and Pizza

At Bayer, I’m conducting research on wheat plants. About 20 percent of the world’s calories come from wheat: Bread, pasta and pizza are all made with wheat flour. But soon, demand could outstrip supply. To help prevent this, I’m searching along with several scientists at Bayer’s Crop Science Division for ways to increase wheat plants’ yields. In the long term, we want to optimize the ratio between a plant’s yield and its total biomass – in other words, increase the amount of the useful portion, which is called the harvest index.

Each Plant – A New Discovery

My area of research is carbon partitioning, which is based on photosynthesis, or the plant’s energy metabolism. To increase photosynthesis, and ultimately wheat yield, we try to stimulate the plant’s systems for transporting carbohydrate substances. While it sounds feasible, it’s actually extremely complicated to carry off. To intervene in central metabolic pathways, we need to know each precise conversion process in the plants and work with each of them. I’m deeply familiar with wheat plants, as if they were good friends. Because of this, I can say that they’re all individual; no two plants look the same.

The Sublime Bonsai – In Fact, Dozens of Them

Plants also play an important part in my private life: At home, I have about 40 bonsai trees. These miniature versions of mighty trees let me enjoy the majesty of plants right in my own home. Plants are tied to their location, they can’t run away, so they have to adjust to all the good – but also all the less favorable – environmental conditions. This situation applies to bonsai trees just as much as they do to my research subject: Nobody can predict exactly how wheat will react to external manipulation. It’s too flexible for that. So anybody who wants to modify, and optimize, plant growth needs to be patient.
My heart is ‘green.’ Nature helps me to switch off. Every weekend, I exchange the nature in Ghent – where, incidentally, there are too few trees – for Berlin, where my family lives. Whenever I have the time, I like to do some gardening. My son and I are growing bell peppers and other crop plants in a raised vegetable bed. But not wheat.

CV. DR CLAUS FROHBERG

1991 Diploma in Biology, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. Thesis: “Untersuchungen zum Einfluß des Tet-Repressor-Operator-Komplexes auf die Expression von CaMV 35S Promotorderivaten” at Institute for Genbiological Research (IGF) under supervision of Dr. Christiane Gatz.

1994 PhD in Biology , Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. Thesis: “Funktionsanalyse zweier DNA-Bindeproteine von Solanum tuberosum L.” at Institute for Genbiological Research (IGF) under supervision of Prof. Dr. Lothar.

1994-1996 Post - Doctorate Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology, Golm, Germany, under supervision of Dr. Jens Kossmann.

1996 Co-founder and employee at PlantTec Biotechnology GmbH R&D, Potsdam, Germany.

1997 Build up of Biotech start-up company.

2003 Scientific Expert, Bayer Bioscience GmbH, Carbohydrate Competence Center, Potsdam, Germany.

2008 Member of the Management Team, Carbohydrate Competence Center, Potsdam, Germany.

2010 Expert Fellow at Bayer CropScience, Gent, Belgium, Trait Research, Crop Efficiency.

2016-current Chief Scientist at Bayer CropScience, Gent, Belgium Trait research, Crop efficiency.

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