The independent junior research group, headed by Dr. Nico Dissmeyer, is located at the Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry (IPB) at Halle as part of the weinberg campus. The lab's research focus is on mechanisms of molecular recognition and destruction of plant proteins. These are essential consituents of all living cells and take over diverse cellular tasks. For example, they act as building blocks, units of energy storage, and are responsible for biocatalysis in form of enzymes. Critical determinants to ensure proper protein function are especially their concentration and three-dimensional form, i.e. their folding. Only if both factors are strictly controlled and regulated, cellular metabolism and other biochemical tasks can be accomplished. Thus, in the laboratory, molecular pathways are under investigation which are important for recognition and degradation of both erroneous proteins or polypeptides that have to be disposed off. The biochemical, genetical, cell and molecular biological experiments are conducted in the genetic model plant Arabidopsis thaliana (mouse-ear cress).
For further information, please consult the lab's official home page at www.dissmeyerlab.org
Particular economic challenges can be identified in a transition from the traditional fossil-based chemical industry to a bio-based industry. Key economic issues for this transition are
- creating incentives to invest in the development of environmentally friendly, bio-based products and processes,
- managing potential economies of scale in the basic chemical industry and the resulting need of very or even extremely large processing facilities,
- building up value and supply chains as well as strategic alliances that include farmers and agricultural businesses and that are able to deal with the heterogeneity of biomass qualities and enable cascaded uses to ensure efficient uses of the whole plants,
- securing sufficient financing, in particular venture capital for bio-based firms,
- marketing bio-based products to consumers.
This list of challenges can be further extended. Examples are an assessment of market potentials and acceptance of bio-based products as well as the transition of the agricultural sector towards becoming a supplier of raw material for non-food uses. This is particularly important for avoiding public concerns as experienced in the food or fuel discussion during recent years with high food prices or regarding concerns about the “maizification” of the landscape. Related to these developments are public concerns about a further intensification of agricultural production in general. Particular concerns within Germany and the EU are related to the “green biotechnology”, in particular the use of GMOs and new biotechnological approaches in agriculture.
For solving these challenges and issues, there is an increasing demand for competences in topics such as institutional mechanisms in emerging branches with a critical public awareness, institutional mechanisms dealing with the co-existence of different farming types (e.g. conventional/organic/GMO-based farming), governance of specific risks like the development of resistant pests, financing start-ups and new technologies, the political economy of biotechnology as well as ethical issues of public concerns about the bioeconomy.
For some of the mentioned areas there is already an increasing awareness of economists in general and agricultural economists in particular. Despite of the ongoing research in these fields, there are still enormous research gaps.