Oomycetes exist in all of the world's marine, limnic and terrestrial environments – in the Arctic, in rainforests and deserts, as well in temperate meadows and forests – yet hardly anyone has heard of them. They belong to the kingdom of Straminipila, which also includes diatoms and brown algae, and differ significantly from plants, fungi and animals. While some oomycetes live in close symbiosis with their host plants, other species cause considerable damage, in particular to agricultural crops, as for example in the disease "late blight", or "potato blight" in nineteenth century Ireland, when it caused the Irish Potato Famine.
To date approximately 2,000 species of oomycetes have been described, but professor Marco Thines estimates that their numbers – in habitats ranging from the Arctic to the Tropics – may be as high as 20,000 species. Thines investigates several aspects of oomycete diversity, ecology, evolution and genetics. Using comparative gene and genome analysis, he attempts to elucidate how they populate new habitats, climatic niches and new hosts. For this research he also uses historical collections and together with his research group devises ways these archives can be used for evolutionary analysis.
In the course of his investigations on the effect of climate change on oomycetes, Thines has established that several species are extremely sensitive to temperature and that some pathogenic forms exhibit different preferences than their hosts. In all probability this will alter the distribution of many of the diseases that affect wild and cultivated plants. Thines is keen to bring his results to public attention: "We are continuously discovering new species of pests that affect plants, and we want to disseminate this information so that, if appropriate, quarantine regulations or custom-tailored management strategies can prevent their further dispersal".
His teaching focuses on plant symbioses, which is offered as a separate module within the "Ecology and Evolution" Master's Programme. To keep up-to-date with the latest didactic techniques, Thines completed a further qualification in 2008 – the "Hochschuldidaktik-Zertifikat des Landes Baden-Württemberg" ("University Didactic Certificate of the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg"). Thines can also communicate insight into the applied use of research to his students because the "IdentXX" Company, which Thines founded together with a colleague, analyses seeds and seedlings for potential pathogens and pests, and developed a novel detection method to achieve this.
Marco Thines studied Biology at the University of Hohenheim from 1999 to 2003 and obtained his doctorate there in 2005 with a dissertation on obligate biotrophic Peronosporomycetes. He then studied journalism for four semesters and in 2006 jointly set up the "PathoScan" Company, which has now been re-named "IdentXX GmbH". From 2007 until 2010 he headed a research group, which studied the biodiversity of oomycetes, in the "Biodiversity and Plant Interaction" Department at the Botany Institute in Hohenheim. He received his Habilitation in 2009 for work on the taxonomy and evolution of plant pathogenic oomycetes. He subsequently conducted research, for example, as a visiting scientist at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK; this work was funded by the Max Planck Society. In 2010 Thines was appointed to a professorship at the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiKF) of the Senckenberg Nature Research Society and of the Goethe University Frankfurt.
Prof. Dr. Marco Thines
Institute for Ecology, Evolution and Diversity/Biodiversity
and Climate Research Centre Senckenberganlage 25
60325 Frankfurt am Main
Telephone: +49 (0)69 7542 1851