DFG HEISENBERG Research Fellowship Award for                   Dr. Thorsten Schnurbusch

Since January 1, 2015, Dr Thorsten Schnurbusch has been awarded a prestigous HEISENBERG Research Fellowship by the DFG. The three years research program will further enable fundamental discoveries towards the molecular elucidation of spike development in small grain cereals specifically for a better understanding of spikelet and floret development as yield relevant plant organs.

Publication in Nature:  Genetic Basis Contributing to the Adaption of Wheat to Tolerate High Soil Boron Uncovered

Root Length Differences in Boron Tolerant Bread Wheat Cultivar Halberd (left)in Comparison to Boron intolerant Cranbrook (right)

Plant Scientists Blaze a Trail to Sequencing the Wheat Genome

Dr Naser Poursarebani and Dr Thorsten Schnurbusch





DFG HEISENBERG Research Group Plant Architecture

Head: Dr. habil. Thorsten Schnurbusch

Developmental and Molecular Genetics of Cereal Spikes


The research program primarily centers on spike and spikelet development in wheat and barley.

Inflorescence Architecture of Cereal Spikes

Our understanding of the molecular genetics of spike or spikelet development is very limited in small grain cereals. Functional knowledge of genes, which regulate key developmental traits such as inflorescence branching, spikelet initiation or abortion, rachis internode length, or total number of rachis internodes is almost completely lacking in most of our cereal crops. We are utilizing natural spike variants from wheat and induced spike mutants from barley to clarify the genetic make-up of genes underlying developmental phenotypes for reduced and increased grain number per spike.

Spikelet and Floret Development

Among the Triticeae, barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) shows a distinct spikelet formation with three single-flowered spikelets per rachis node. Based upon the size and fertility of the two lateral spikelets barley can be classified into five row-types (Mansfeld 1950): (1) convar. deficiens, (2) convar. distichon, (3) convar. intermedium, (4) convar. labile, and (5) convar. hexastichon. Three mutant barley loci—vrs2vrs3, and vrs4—individually determine the conversion from two- (distichon) to six-rowed (hexastichon) barleys but, however, were exclusively found after mutagenesis. The molecular isolation of genes being involved in lateral spikelet fertility may provide an important contribution to further insights into the developmental genetic processes underlying floret formation in barley and other grasses.

Pre-Flowering Development in Cereals

We are interested in the molecular-genetic elucidation of early spike development in small grain cereals. To this end, we are investigating the pre-flowering development of barley and wheat which usually can be divided into three major phases: the leaf initiation (LI) phase, the spikelet initiation (SI) phase, and the spike growth (SG) phase. The duration of each phase can vary depending on environmental conditions (temperature and photoperiod) and contributes independently towards final time to flowering and subsequently yield.


Heading time regulation in spring barley

ALQUDAH et al. (2014) Genetic dissection of photoperiod response based on GWAS of pre-anthesis phase duration in spring barley. [link]PLoS ONE 9: e113120

Barley plant life cycle

SREENIVASULU, N. and TH. SCHNURBUSCH (2012) A genetic playground for enhancing grain number in cereals. [link]Trends Plant Science 17: 91-101