Development of Biology at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (University of Karlsruhe)

[Polytechnische Schule: 1825 – 1885; Technische Hochschule: 1885 – 1967; Universität (TH): 1968 – 2009; Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT): since 2009]

Early Developments of Botany and Genetics in Karlsruhe 1715 - 1832

When margrave Karl Wilhelm (1679 – 1738) of Baden with his interest in Botany and exotic plants had founded the Karlsruhe Palace (Schloß) in 1715, he had large amounts of trees from foreign countries planted in the Palace Gardens (Schloßgarten). In addition, numerous herbaceous and exotic plant rarities were cultivated in the palace greenhouses. As a passionate gardener he introduced 5000 different types of tulips that were bred, proliferated, and also painted in Karlsruhe (Karlsruher Tulpenbuch of 1730). In 1731 his gardener Christian Thran was sent on a 2-year excursion to Tunisia. He returned with seeds and seedlings from African plants which were cultivated in the Karlsruhe Palace Gardens and distributed to many other European courts. With princess Caroline Luise (1723 – 1783), as the spouse of margrave Karl Friedrich (1727 - 1811), a well known excellent botanist came to the court of Baden in 1751. She corresponded extensively with the famous botanist Carl von Linné, cultivated numerous local and foreign plants in the Karlsruhe Schloßgarten, had these plants painted and also engraved on copper plates for a planned book edition of all existing plants. In addition, she saw to it that all the local and foreign trees and plants of the Karlsruhe palace gardens were botanically correctly determined and catalogued according to the plant system of Linné. For this purpose Joseph Gottlieb Kölreuter (1733 – 1806) was appointed curator (Direktor) of the Botanical Palace Gardens at Karlsruhe in 1764 and also professor of Natural History to take care of her large natural science collections (Naturalienkabinett). At the beginning of 1760 Kölreuter had published a series of papers on sex in plants, and in Karlsruhe he continued and extended his classical crossbreeding experiments (e.g. with two tobacco species). He demonstrated that the characteristic features (Merkmale) of the resulting tobacco hybrids were of maternal and paternal origin. In fact, many years before Gregor Mendel he detected the laws of genetic inheritance in plants, which today are known as “Mendel Rules of Genetics”. Mendel's famous experiments were an extension of Kölreuter’s crossbreeding results and Mendel admitted this in the publication of his results. Thus, the pioneer and actual founder of genetics is Johann Gottlieb Kölreuter. In 1784 the botanist Professor Carl Christian Gmelin (1762 – 1837) took over the management of the Karlsruhe Botanical Gardens as well as the natural science collections, later known as State Collection and Museum of Natural History (Staatliches Naturkundemuseum). In 1805 Gmelin edited the first flora of Baden and Alsace (Flora Badensis Alsatica) and, together with court gardener Michael Schweyckert, he took various trips to foreign countries collecting plants and seeds and considerably enlarging the plant population of the Karlsruhe Botanical Garden. Thus, essential impulses for the study of plants and early research in botany and genetics came from the Court of Baden in Karlsruhe. When Caroline Luise’s second son Ludwig, influenced by his mother's botanical, chemical, technical and science studies, was Grand Duke of Baden, he was well prepared to found the Polytechnical School of Karlsruhe in 1825.

The Years 1945 - 2000

After World War II in 1946 the study course of pharmacy was reestablished in Karlsruhe. The Botanical Institute had reopened in the fall of 1945 with Hans Kühlwein as the provisional head of W. Schwartz's former Regierungsbotaniker position. In 1948 a new Chair of Botany and Pharmacognosy was created and filled by Ulrich Weber (1949 – 1954), the editor of the famous textbook of pharmacognosy. After his early death the chair was refilled by Hans Kühlwein (1956 – 1980) who initiated the establishment of the new botanical garden „Am Fasanengarten“, completed in 1958. H. Kühlwein ran the well known meeting of the German Botanical Society in Karlsruhe in 1962. In his teaching of pharmacognosy he was complemented by Privatdozent Ewald Sprecher (1959 – 1968), later professor of pharmacognosy in Hamburg. Teaching of zoology was restarted in 1948 by the school director Franz Mutscheller (1948 – 1972), and in 1962 a new Chair of Zoology was created and filled by Gerolf Steiner (1962 – 1973). In addition, in 1962 a Chair of Radiation Biology (Alexander Catsch, 1962 – 1976) was established in cooperation with the Karlsruhe Nuclear Research Center (KfK) and became internationally renowned for its research on the decorporation of radioisotopes of transuranium elements and heavy metals.

With the reorientation of the Technische Hochschule and its renaming to "University of Karlsruhe" in 1967/1968 the university senate and the government decided to establish several new chairs in biology in order to guarantee complete education and research in modern experimental biology. As a result of that restructuring the old Faculty for Sciences (Fakultät für Naturwissenschaften II) was divided into smaller faculties and the new Faculty of Life and Earth Sciences (Bio- und Geowissenschaften) was established in 1969 with Hans Kühlwein as first dean (1969-1971). Separate chairs were created, first for Plant Physiology, Biochemistry and Pharmacognosy, known as Botany 2, (Hartmut Lichtenthaler, 1970 – 2001), then for Zoophysiology, known as Zoology 2, (Wilfried Hanke, 1971 – 1997), and later for Microbiology (Walter Zumft, 1982 – 2005). All three chairs were located in the Chemistry Center (Chemieturm I, Fritz-Haber-Weg 4) of the university campus. After the early death of A. Catsch in 1976 the Chair of Radiation Biology was transferred to the Chair of Genetics (Peter Herrlich, 1977 – 2003). H. Lichtenthaler, later well-known for the detection of the chloroplast-bound isoprenoid biosynthesis (DOXP/MEP pathway), initiated the construction of an experimental greenhouse for reproductive plant growth (Versuchsgewächshaus) with laboratories and phytochambers in the Botanical Garden. It was completed in 1978. In addition to the new chairs of biology, several associate professorships were established for biophysics (Georg Schoffa, 1971 – 1988), biological electron microscopy (Wilhelm Schmidt-Lorenz, 1971 – 1973), botanical cytology (Hans Heumann, 1974 – 2002), plant morphology (Gerhard Jurzitza, 1973 – 1992), plant physiology (Manfred Tevini, 1974 – 2002), zoology (Konrad Schmidt, 1975 – 1999, Norbert Rieder, 1980 – 2007), applied microbiology (Andreas Kuhn, 1990 – 1997), ecology (Horst Taraschewski, since 1993), and applied genetics (Margot Zöller, 1994 – 2008). Successors to the Chair of Zoology 1 were Georg Kümmel (1974 – 1988), and later Reinhard Paulsen (1989 – 2004); whereas the Chair of Botany 1 was refilled by Manfred Weisenseel (1980 - 2002). The new Faculty of Life and Earth Sciences (Fakultät für Bio- und Geowissenschaften) being formed during the restructuring of the Karlsruhe University in 1969 existed until 2001, when the State Government of Baden-Württemberg decided again for larger faculties.

Originally, lectures, courses and examinations took place for the students of biology (Biologie Lehramt, first only Nebenfach, since 1968 also Hauptfach), pharmacy and food chemistry. In 1973/1974 the study course of pharmacy was discontinued in Karlsruhe by a governmental decision and, as before in 1925, transferred to Heidelberg. In 1978, after the establishment of new chairs of biology, a new study course for modern experimental biology (Diplomstudiengang Biologie) with H. Lichtenthaler as first chairman (Prüfungsausschuss-Vorsitzender) was initiated which most biology students enroll in. Several chairs (located at other faculties) on special biological topics contribute to the course of study in biology. These are the Chairs of Biochemistry (Janos Retey, 1973 – 2002), Engineering Biology and Biotechnology of Waste Water (Ingenieurbiologie und Biotechnologie des Abwassers) (Ludwig Hartmann, 1971 – 1992, and Josef Winter, since 1993) and Biocybernetics and Biomedical Techniques (Gerhard Vossius, 1969 – 1994).

The teaching staff in biology was complemented by biologists from federal and state research institutions in the Karlsruhe area. In fact, the Karlsruhe biology has obtained its high reputation in basic and applied research also as a result of its continuous, close cooperation in teaching and research with various non-university research institutions, such as the Federal Food Research Institute (Bundesforschungsanstalt für Ernährung: BfE), Karlsruhe (Prof. Wilhelm Holzapfel), the Federal Research Institute of Viticulture (Bundesforschungsanstalt für Rebenzüchtung), Geilweilerhof (Prof. Günther Staudt, Prof. Rolf Blaich), the State Museum of Natural Sciences (Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde) in Karlsruhe (professors Ludwig Beck, Gerhard Lang, Georg Philippi, Ulrich Roesler), the State Institute of Agricultural Research (Landwirtschaftliche Untersuchungs- und Forschungsanstalt) LUFA-Augustenberg (Prof. Norbert Leist), and the Institute of Genetics at the Karlsruhe Research Center (Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe) (professors Ulrich Hagen, Gerhart Hotz, Helmut Ponta, Hans Rahmsdorf, Arnulf Seidel and Vladimir Volf).

The New Millennium, changes since 2000

Successions in Professor Positions: At the beginning of the new millennium various professors of Biology retired, and a new generation of experimental biologists filled the positions. In 2001 Doris Wedlich took over the Zoology Chair (Animal Physiology, later on Cell and Developmental Biology) at the Zoological Institute and was vice-rector (Prorektorin) for research from 2002 – 2005. In 2002 Holger Puchta succeeded H. Lichtenthaler to the former Chair of Botany 2, now Molecular Biology and Biochemistry of Plants. Peter Nick was appointed professor (Plant Molecular Cell Biology) in 2003, became the dean for Student Affairs (Studiendekan) in Biology and followed M. Weisenseel to the former Chair of Botany 1 in 2005. In 2004 Reinhard Fischer became a professor (Applied Microbiology) in Karlsruhe and in 2006 he succeeded W. Zumft to the Chair of Microbiology. In 2004 Martin Bastmeyer followed R. Paulsen taking over the Chair Cell- and Neurobiology at the Zoological Institute. In 2007 professor Tilman Lampater (General Botany) joined the Botanical Institute and in 2005 Natalia Requena (Symbiosis between Plants and Mycorrhizal Fungi) who, in 2008 became a Heisenberg professor (Plant – Microbe Interactions), i.e. a foundation professorship that will be inherited by KIT. In 2007 Jörg Kämper was appointed professor of Genetics (succeeding Margot Zöller) and Ulrich Schwarz professor of Theoretical Biophysics (2008 – 2009) within the Zoology Department. In January 2005 a merger of the institutes of Food Chemistry (M. Metzler, D. Marko) and Microbiology (W. Zumft, R. Fischer) took place and resulted in the new Institute for Applied Life Sciences (Institut für Angewandte Biowissenschaften). The Chair of Genetics (Jörg Kämper) was incorporated into this new merger. This voluntary association was meant to foster the scientific cooperation and teaching in the new Faculty of Chemistry and Biological Sciences, also in view of guaranteeing a good performance of the new study course of Chemical Biology (Chemische Biologie). Teaching and research in Biology is further promoted by university assistant professors (Privatdozenten), such as Claus Buschmann (plant ecophysiology), Dietmar Gradl (embryology), Frank Hartung (plant molecular biology, bioinformatics). The teaching of various special topics of biology is complemented by habilitated lecturers (Privatdozenten) and professors of non-university institutions, such as Christine Blattner, Prof. Andrew Cato, and Véronique Orian-Rousseau from the Institute of Toxicology and Genetics of the Karlsruhe Research Center, Prof. Eberhard Frey from the State Museum of Natural History, Prof. Rolf Geisen and Clemens Franz, both from the Federal Max-Rubner Institute for Nutrition and Food, Karlsruhe, and Prof. Eva Zyprian, from the Federal Institute of Viticulture, Geilweilerhof.

New Faculty for Chemistry and Biological Sciences: When the Ministry of Sciences of Baden-Württemberg once again opted for somewhat larger faculties, the biologists and chemists decided in 2000 on a joint Faculty of Chemistry and Biological Sciences (Chemie und Biowissenschaften) that started in the winter semester 2001/2002. Since chemistry plays a major role in biology and many Karlsruhe biologists had scientifically cooperated and published with chemists, merging chemistry and biology into one faculty was a logical decision. In general the dean’s position is alternating filled by a biologist and a chemist. He is supported by two Prodekane, one each for biology and chemistry, and two deans for student affairs (Studiendekane für Biologie und Chemie). The first deans of the new faculty were Manfred Metzler (2001 - 2003), Manfred Kappes (2003 – 2005), Holger Puchta (2005 – 2007), and Stefan Bräse (since 2007).

The Study Programs in Biology

Biology Bachelor and Master: Due to the European Bologna Process, which started in 1999 with the aim of adapting the study courses of different European universities to the same level, the well established, successful Karlsruhe study program Diplombiologie (including the Vordiplom after 4 semesters) was changed by governmental decision to the Bachelor and Master Degree program. 90 students per year are admitted to this study program. The last students admitted for Diplombiologie will receive their diploma in 2012.
Biology Lehramt: As before, 10 students per year are admitted to the particular Biology study program for high school teachers.
Chemical Biology: Before merging to one faculty chemists and biologists had already discussed and planned a new joint study course "Chemical Biology" (Chemische Biologie) which could successively be developed in the common faculty. This study course, providing education in basic biology and in particular chemical and physicochemical methods to be applied in biology, was finally established in 2009. This new course of studies is offered with Bachelor and Master Degree programs and started with the admission of 30 students per year.
Applied Biology: Another course of study “Applied Biology” (Angewandte Biologie) is going to start in 2010 with the admission of 30 students per year. The students will be educated in microbiology, physiology, genetics and biochemistry of industrially important microorganisms (White Biotechnology).

The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology KIT

In October 2006 the University of Karlsruhe was elected Elite University (Elite-Universität), together with the two universities of Munich, by the Federal Government of Germany, Berlin, after a national contest and evaluation of German universities. One basis, among others, for winning this contest was the planned merger of the University of Karlsruhe (an institution of the State of Baden-Württemberg) and the Federal Research Center Karlsruhe (Forschungszentrum), a research institution of the Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft. After a step-by-step integration the official merger into the new Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) took place on October 1, 2009. KIT specializes in research, teaching and innovation.

With the establishment as German Elite University in 2006 the Karlsruhe University has been receiving strong federal financial support that will continue for five years. A part of these funds is used to advance teaching and to establish independent research groups of promising young scientists. In this context several junior research groups were initiated in biology, these are Daniela Kobbe (biochemistry of RecQ helicases), Jan Maisch (plant pattern formation), Michael Riemann (jasmonate biology), Lars Wegner (plant bioelectrics), Almut Köhler (neural crest migration), Jubin Kashef (biofunctionalization).

In July 2001 the Center for Functional Nanostructures (CFN) was established at the Karlsruhe Research Center in close cooperation with the University and the German Research Council (DFG) in order to enhance interdisciplinary research in the field of nanotechnology. Several working groups of the Karlsruhe Biology participate in nanobiology research with the aim to modify cell properties by the inclusion of nanoparticles. In addition, there exists one independent CFN nanobiology young investigator research group led by Clemens Franz. Nanotechnology, including nanobiology, is one major research topic of the joint Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).

Hartmut Lichtenthaler, January 2010

Historical note about chemistry in Karlsruhe

The University of Karlsruhe (TH) was founded as a Polytechnische Schule in 1825 having as an example the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. As such it is the first Technical University or Technische Hochschule (TH) in Germany.

Print of the "Polytechnische Schule" in 1825

From the beginning the main purpose was to offer a higher technical education on a scientific and mathematical basis (see Festschrift zur 125-Jahrfeier, edited by E. Terres, Selbstverlag der TH Karlsruhe, 1950, p. 3).
Although chemistry was taught from the beginning, a basic advancement of teaching and research in chemistry commenced in 1840, when Carl Weltzien started his career in Karlsruhe. He erected a new and well equipped chemistry laboratory which at that time had a prototype character for many universities. He is particularly renowned for chairing the first International Chemistry Congress which took place in Karlsruhe in 1860. Among the leading chemists of Europe - more than 120 attended - were Stanislao Cannizzaro (Italy), Dimitrii I. Mendeleev (Russia), and Lothar Meyer (Germany). As an aftermath of the discussions at the Karlsruhe Congress the first clear statement of the periodic table of the elements was made in 1869 by Mendeleev and in 1868/1870 by Lothar Meyer.

Since 1850 two chairs in chemistry existed in Karlsruhe, that of Weltzien in general chemistry and a second in chemical technology. When Weltzien retired in 1868 he was followed by Lothar Meyer.
In 1887 Carl Engler took over the chair in general chemistry and Hans Bunte became his successor in chemical technology. These two great men became well known for their scientific and technical contributions in different areas of chemistry and they take credit for expanding the chemistry department and for attracting and supporting young researchers and colleagues. A new laboratory for organic chemistry was created in 1888, where eminent chemists taught, among them Hermann Staudinger (1907-1911) and later Rudolf Criegee (1937-1969). For his discoveries in the field of macromolecular chemistry Staudinger was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1953. Fritz Haber joined the laboratory of Bunte in 1896, where he started research and teaching in physical chemistry and electrochemistry.

Lothar Meyer

In 1900 a new building for the chemistry institute was started. In the same year a new chair and institute in physical chemistry and electro-chemistry had been set up. Teachers and researchers at this institute have been Max Le Blanc (1900-1905), Fritz Haber (1905-1911), Georg Bredig (1912-1934), Kasimir Fajans, Paul Günther (1946-1960) and Hellmut Fischer (1959-1970) to name only a few. Haber moved to Berlin in 1911 where he became the Director of the new Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry, now Fritz-Haber-Institute of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. For his pioneering work of the synthesis of ammonia from the elements performed in Karlsruhe Haber was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1918.

Interior of the old Chemistry Institute, opened in 1903
and  restored in the eighties, now "Kollegiengebäude"

After the first world war Carl Engler retired aged 77. His successors were Paul Pfeiffer (1919-1922), Karl Freudenberg (1922-1925), Alfred Stock (1925-1935) and Rudolf Scholder (1937-1965). During this period research in this institute more and more moved into inorganic chemistry, a famous example being Stock`s work. In parallel to this development a new chair in analytical chemistry had been installed in 1943 which was first filled by Rudolf Dworzak (1944-1969). In accordance with its new research topics the former Institute of General Chemistry changed into the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry in 1947.
Hans Bunte was head of the Institute of Chemical Technology until 1920. During this period various applied research projects have been initiated such as gas and combustion technology which nowadays is part of the Engler-Bunte-Institute of the University. In the Institute of Chemical Technology Hans Bunte was succeeded by Paul Askenasy (1920-1934), August Henglein (1934-1961) and Erich Fitzer (1961-1989).
After the war and the beginning of the Wirtschaftswunder a strong investment into universities and science could be afforded and was launched. At the end of the fifties, beginning of sixties this resulted in a significant expansion of the research facilities and teaching capabilities in chemistry at the University of Karlsruhe. New buildings for the Institutes of Organic Chemistry (1965), Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry (1967), Food Chemistry and partly Chemical Technology and, finally, Inorganic Chemistry (1975) have been completed. The number of chairs in inorganic chemistry (Gerhard Fritz, 1965-1988; Hartmut Bärnighausen, 1967-1998), in organic chemistry (Hans Musso, 1969-1988, Gerhard Schröder, 1970-1997), and in physical chemistry (Ernst Ulrich Franck, 1961-1988; Gerhard Hertz, 1965-1990) has been doubled. Various chairs in different new fields have been created. Together with their first holders these have been: biochemistry (Karl Hasse, 1965-1972), nuclear chemistry (Walter Seelmann-Eggebert, 1958-1983), polymer chemistry (Bruno Vollmert, 1965-1986) and theoretical chemistry (Reinhart Ahlrichs, 1975-). Furthermore, there existed in this period a chair in analytical chemistry (Klaus Krogmann, 1969-1993), in food chemistry (Werner Heimann, 1968-1980) and in physical chemistry and electrochemistry (Ulrich Schindewolf, 1970-1993). When the new Faculty of Chemistry was founded in 1969 it consisted of the following institutes: inorganic chemistry (including analytical chemistry), organic chemistry (including biochemistry), physical chemistry and electrochemistry (including theoretical chemistry), nuclear chemistry, chemical technology (including polymer chemistry) and food chemistry. This compilation, with little changes, leads to the present structure of the faculty.

This short note sketches a few milestones in the history of chemistry at the University of Karlsruhe. As such it cannot be complete and, in particular, it is impossible to consider the scientific work of a larger number of prominent chemists over such a long period.