Scientific career and current research interests:
Thomas Boller started his studies 1968 at "Abteilung X" of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich). Initially, he was most interested in medical biochemistry, but he converted to plant biology due to the fascinating lectures of Prof. Philippe Matile, in whose laboratory he received his diploma (awarded with a Medal of Excellence of the ETH, 1973) and his PhD degree (again awarded with a Medal of Excellence of the ETH, 1977). His thesis, guided by Andres Wiemken and performed in close collaboration with a fellow PhD student, Mathias Dürr, described for the first time a vacuolar transport system, the arginine permease of the yeast vacuole.
He subsequently spent two years in the laboratory of Prof. Hans Kende in the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory, Michigan State University, East Lansing. Initially working on plant vacuoles, he provided clear evidence that this organelle is an equivalent of the animal lysosomes, as postulated by Philippe Matile some years earlier. Subsequently, because of the excitement about ethylene biosynthesis prevailing at that time in Hans Kende's lab, he became drawn to that subject, and he discovered the key enzyme of ethylene biosynthesis, ACC synthase. Ethylene biosynthesis remained a favorite topic, with the cloning of ACC oxidase as another highlight, and is still actively pursued in Basel ("Ethylene").
Thomas Boller returned to Switzerland 1979 to join the laboratory of Prof. J.J. Oertli at the Botanical Institute of the University of Basel, and he attempted to maintain the interests in plant physiology in Basel in his own responsibility after J.J. Oertli left Basel in fall 1979 . He became interested in chitinase and beta-1,3-glucanase, and his group established that these "pathogenesis-related proteins" were important defensive enzymes of the plant, acting in combination to destroy attacking fungi.
When Andres Wiemken became the successor of J.J. Oertli at the Botanical Institute in 1984, he established plant-microbe interactions as a central theme in the laboratory, with a focus on the symbiosis of plants with mycorrhizal fungi and rhizobia. A key research topic in the laboratory, jointly headed by Thomas Boller and Andres Wiemken, remained the role of chitinase and beta-1,3-glucanase in symbiosis ("Molecular biology of Symbiosis").
The laboratory also became interested in the ecological impact of symbioses and plant-pathogen interactions, and it took part in a large interdisciplinary project on biodiversity, sponsored by the Swiss National Research Foundation in the context of the Swiss Priority Programme Environment (SPPE). Highlights of the joint projects of Andres Wiemken and Thomas Boller were the discovery of microsatellites in fungi, and the finding that the below-ground diversity of mycorrhizal fungi plays a key role in the above-ground biodiversity in plant communities. The laboratory maintains an active interest in this field ("Ecology of Arbuscular Mycorrhiza").
In this context, Thomas Boller acted as a co-ordinator of the interdisciplinary project and headed the "MCO Biodiversity (Management and Co-ordination Office Biodiversity)". The MCO Biodiversity has established itself as a platform for scientific and political exchange in the context of biodiversity. Its national and international co-ordination efforts have now been handed over to the Swiss Biodiversity Forum, but the MCO Biodiversity continues to be active in the co-ordination of biodiversity research in Basel and Zürich in the context of the newly founded Center of Plant Biology.
Thomas Boller is currently also heading a team interested in the physiology and diversity of ectomycorrhizal fungi and their impact for forest biodiversity ("Ectomycorrhiza").
A second major theme in the laboratory, again jointly headed by Andres Wiemken and Thomas Boller, deals with carbohydrate metabolism and sugar sensing in plants. The biochemistry and molecular biology of fructan metabolism has been a long-standing research interest in the laboratory ("Fructans"), and more recently, based on the previous research of Andres Wiemken on trehalose biosynthesis in yeast, we have also become interested in the synthesis and function of trehalose in plants ("Plants and Trehalose").
From 1987 till 2003, Thomas Boller was also a part-time group leader at the Friedrich Miescher-Institute (FMI). His research group at the FMI focussed on the chemical sense of plants, and in particular in the perception and transduction of elicitor signals in plants. After the unfortunate decision of the FMI to close down plant research, Thomas Boller was able to move the research group to the Botanical Institute of the University of Basel, where it continues its successful work on innate immunity in plants ("Elicitor Perception").