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Botany in Karlsruhe: older than the university

Abstammungslinie der Genetik: ohne den Karlsruher Botaniker Kölreuter hätte Mendel seine Gesetze nie gefunden.
Der badische Revolutionär Hecker motivierte den Botaniker Blankenberg dazu, hier in Karlsruhe das erste Weinforschungsinstitut zu gründen.

Karlsruhe belongs to the younger German universities and was originally conceived as School for Engineering. This would suggest that biology here is a relatively recent activity. However, in fact, Karlsruhe botany is by far older than the university and this history should be told on these pages...

The Cradle of Plant Genetics

Only few People know that Karlsruhe was the "Cradle of Plant Genetics" - it was Karlsruhe botanist Joseph Gottlieb Kölreuter, who demonstrated by a simple and elegant Experiment that both parents contribute to inheritance symmetrically, (not only the fathers as was widely believed at this time. He crossed (after many preparatory failures) two wild tobacco species that differ in their flower shape and was able to show that the offspring was exactly in the middle between the parents. By this experiment he not only won a science prize funded by the Russian Tsar Catharina, but also had founded (without being Aware about this fact) a new science: genetics. An entire century later Mendel quotes over many pages in his famous book the work of Kölreuter and derives from these results his own experiments.

Wine and Revolution

In 2013, the Minister of Agriculture, Alexander Bonde presented at the State Institute of Viticulture in Freiburg 6 newly registered grape varieties that are resistant to diseases. Such varieties support ecological viticulture, because they allow for reduced chemical plant protection. Few people know that this success story began around 150 years ago here in Karlsruhe: After his political visions of a democratic Germany had failed, the Badenian revolutionary Friedrich Hecker emigrated to the States. There he began to work on viticulture and noticed the natural immunity of American wild grapevine against diseases and insect pests. Over two decades of correspondence he persuaded Adolph von Blankenhorn, who entertained in Karlsruhe a privately funded Grapevine Research Institute that the natural immunity of these wild grapes might be exploited to control the new diseases such as Phylloxera, Downy Mildew, and Powdery Mildew that devastated European viticulture at that time. Hecker tried without success to produce a decent wine from these wild grapes, but then got the idea of grafting scions of tasty varieties on the robust rootstocks of American wild grapes, a practice that is nowadays obligatory in our vineyards. The seeds, which he mailed to Blankenhorn, became the forefathers of current German rootstocks. A few years later, a cumbersome and lengthy breeding campaign was launched to introduce the immunity of the wild grapes into current varieties, but to get rid of their unpalatable taste (the so called "foxiness"). After around a century of patient breeding, this endeavour was successful. Our Wild Grape Project that had been launched in 2005 in the Botanical Garden, therefore reactivates an old scientific tradition that had been born here in Karlsruhe.

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