In the natural world, fungi are of immense importance for the decomposition of organic compounds, for plant growth and as parasites of human beings, animals and plants, as well as other fungi. They are of interest to human beings as mushrooms and in the manufacture of food products or medicinal products. However, to date, the separate kingdom of the fungi has not been extensively investigated: of an estimated 1.5 million species, only approximately 100,000 species have thus far been identified.
Professor Meike Piepenbring analyses of fungi range from their morphology and selected sequence data to phylogenetic systematics up to the role of fungi in ecosystems. Apart from identifying and systematically characterising fungi they have found, her research group's work focuses on classifying historic sources and descriptions of fungi, as well as establishing databases. Initially, Piepenbring's research focus were the smut fungi: so-called because of their dark spores, which give the affected areas of the plant a burnt appearance. She has published data on all of the approximately 230 known smut fungi in the Neotropics. For more than ten years, her working group has been investigating other parasitic microfungi that affect plants, mainly from Panama.
In that country, it is thought that, in contrast to the 10,000 endemic plant species, over 50,000 fungal species are present, of which Piepenbring has already compiled data on more than 2,000. Partnerships between the Goethe University and universities in Panama and Ecuador have enabled biology courses to be extended and courses are now available in mycology, microbiology and botany. Piepenbring and her team also conduct research on fungal nail and skin infections in cooperation with dermatologists in Frankfurt and Panama. With regard to her teaching objectives, Piepenbring says, "In addition to the fascinating new ecological and systematic insights we gain into the realm of the tropical fungi and with the ongoing destruction of ecosystems, I am motivated by the pressing need to impart knowledge about mycology in the hope of engendering respect for these important and numerous organisms". Students are encouraged to augment their theoretical knowledge and lab work with regular fieldwork in the tropics, following the footsteps of Alexander von Humboldt. Within the Mycology Module part of the "Ecology and Evolution" Master's Programme Piepenbring provides a comprehensive insight into the morphological, ecological and systematic diversity of fungi.
Subsequent to completing her degree in biology at the University of Cologne and Clermont-Ferrand University in France, Meike Piepenbring moved to the University of Tübingen where she completed her doctorate in the field of special botany/mycology. After a year of research on smut fungi in South America, she worked as a senior postdoctoral researcher and received her Habilitation in Tübingen in 1999, on the subject of diversity and phylogeny of smut fungi. In 2001 Piepenbring was appointed professor at the Goethe University Frankfurt in the field of Mycology. From 2010 to 2012 she is Dean of Studies in the Faculty of Biological Sciences. Piepenbring has taught as a short-term lecturer at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in Ecuador, Honduras and Panama, and from 2008 to 2009 she was a visiting professor and long-term DAAD lecturer at the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí in Western Panama.
Prof. Dr. Meike Piepenbring
Institute of Ecology,
Evolution and Diversity
(Biologicum, Flügel D)
60438 Frankfurt am Main
Telephone: +49 (0)69 798 42220