A talk in favour of a pragmatic research by
PD Dr. Christof Sautter ETHZ
9th January 2009

Green Gene Technology or Ecological Farming?
A talk in favour  of pragmatic research.
Dr. Christof Sautter

Sustainable agriculture is an important goal of our Western societies and well based on biology and ethical considerations. Organic farming is considered an interesting approach towards this goal, however, it excludes genetically engineered organisms (GEO), although they have potential to support sustainable agriculture.

It is publicly hardly known that the fear of GEO, which is promoted by organic farming and some non-governmental organisations, lacks scientific evidence. The public debate is mainly fed by risk focused articles, because they get higher attendance, causing an unbalanced opinion in the public. In consequence, gene technology is still a controversial political issue in Europe and particularly also in Switzerland.

The Swiss federal council is going to ask for a prolongation of the currently valid moratorium for agronomic application of GEO. Although this moratorium excludes research, it makes research in the field of genetically modified plants more and more difficult, resulting in overregulation and even damage of safe and legal field tests. I will discuss the contribution of freedom of research to the methodical diversity within the tough legal limits at the example of my own experience.

About us
Welcome to the Gruissem laboratory website at the Institute of Plant Sciences in Zurich. We are members of the ETH Zurich Department of Biology, the Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center, and the Life Science Zurich Graduate School.

Researchers in our laboratory tackle questions in basic and applied areas of plant science. One central question relates to the regulation of plant development through integration of cell cycle control and chromatin remodeling. We seek to unravel this process by dissecting the functions of the Retinoblastoma-related (RBR) protein and associated chromatin remodeling complexes such as Polycomb Group (PcG) and chromatin assembly factor (CAF1), using Arabidopsis as a model organism.

Using functional genomics tools and systems biology approaches we also explore the dynamics of gene regulation at different levels. To facilitate gene network discovery we are developing novel bioinformatics tools such as Genevestigator®, which allows researchers to mine large transcriptome databases. Similarly, we are using proteomics to unravel the plant proteome and to detect dynamic protein changes during development. Computational tools and collaborations with colleagues from other disciplines allow us to define the complexity of molecular interactions. We have chosen isoprenoid biosynthesis as an example to understand how pathway gene regulation together with spatial and temporal control of enzyme activities and metabolite allocation are integrated into the complex metabolic network.

Advances in basic research often provide the principles for improving plant function and performance. We recognize the importance of applying our biotechnology skills to provide solutions in major staple crops. Fugal diseases in wheat is a major problem worldwide that currently can be controlled only by chemical applications. Cassava, the staple crop of 600 Million people in developing countries, suffers from severe virus attacks. Cassava and rice, which together feed more than half of the human population, lack high quality proteins and mineral nutrients. Using gene technology tools we are developing improved varieties that contribute to food security and improved nutrition.

In the Gruissem laboratory, our Senior Research Associates Dr. Sacha Baginsky, Dr. Lars Hennig, PD Dr. Christof Sautter, Dr. Herve Vanderschuren, Dr. Eva Vranova, Dr. Peng Zhang and Dr. Philip Zimmermann lead projects in the above described basic and applied research areas. We work with an excellent and dedicated team of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, as well as technical and administrative support staff. Diploma and Masters thesis projects available