Foundation of the Institute

The Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (Leibniz-Institut für Pflanzengenetik und Kulturpflanzenforschung IPK), newly founded in January 1992, had significant forerunners in the tasks it addresses.

 

As early as the 1930s, leading biologists of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society developed approaches and strategies to advance scientific research, which have retained their essential validity to the present day. Taking the knowledge of genetics as a starting point, basic research was planned to be conducted on cultivated plants using the methods and ideas developed in the fields of genetics, taxonomy, physiology, biochemistry and biophysics with the goal of improving crop plant breeding. It was deemed important to collect and preserve the great diversity of cultivated plants and to use them in research. At that time, farseeing scientists were already aware of the increasing threat to the diversity of cultivated plant varieties and the necessity of preserving them.

 

The ideas described were institutionalised in 1943 when the "Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Kulturpflanzenforschung" (Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Crop Plant Research) was founded under Hans Stubbe (see picture), who began building up the institute in Gatersleben in 1945. Basic and applied research were conducted in the fields of genetics, cytology, phylogenetics, systematic morphology, biochemistry and plant physiology. Particular attention was devoted to continually expanding the collection of living cultivated plants. Other groups of organisms, including bacteria, chironomids, and laboratory mammals, were integrated into the experimental programme. In addition to the scientific work, debates on and resistance against the false doctrine of Lyssenkoism modelled the institute's character. The Gatersleben institute became "the great, free Institute of Genetics in this part of Central Europe, beyond the areas of specialisation borne in its name" (G. Melchers). The core of the tradition of intellectual independence and scientific credibility were preserved, despite ideological reglementation and mistaken personnel policies, especially in the 1980s. These qualities were also evident in autumn 1989, when, earlier than in other institutes of the former Academy of Sciences, the institute freely elected a Scientific Council. As early as November 1989, this Council forced the institute's director to step down and determined all essential aspects of institute policy. In Summer 1990, under the new director Klaus Müntz, the institute was reorganised and five new department heads were appointed.

In February 1991, a group of experts from the German Science Council (Wissenschaftsrat) recommended that the institute be retained with its basic scientific concept, including the genebank as an integral part. Later, a Founding Committee was set up. By the beginning of December 1991, it had developed a scientific concept making use of the suggestions from the institute's Board of Directors and the Scientific Council. On this basis, the present Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research was founded on January 1, 1992, as a Blue List institute, now the Leibniz Association.