Excursions to plant-related industries are frequently organised by CEPLAS to bring our young researchers early into contact with industry and thereby raise awareness of the differences between academic and industry-driven research.

Upcoming excursions:

  • June 6-7, 2024: TalentCampus@KWS, Einbeck

Past excursions


CEPLAS Guest Visit to Bayer Crop Science Headquarters

Written by the CEPLAS Early Career Researchers Benjamin Menn and Luca Weber

On February 27, 2024, a group of 15 early career researchers (ECRs) from the Cluster of Excellence on Plant Sciences (CEPLAS) and iGRAD-Plant had the opportunity to visit the headquarters of Bayer Crop Science, located in Monheim am Rhein. During the visit, the ECRs gained valuable insights into the latest advancements in industrial agricultural research and innovation. The visit particularly focused on the fields of pest control, data science and emerging technologies.

Highlights of the Visit:
1. Guided Tour on Pest Control:
The ECRs were warmly welcomed by Dr. Jürgen Benting and Ms. Nisha Mahendrarajan, who led the ECRs on a comprehensive tour focusing on pest control mechanisms. Thereby, the ECRs were provided a very nice overview of the workflow during product development of a specific insecticide. Subsequently, the ECRs were guided through the laboratories and greenhouses to observe cutting-edge research in action.
2. LifeHub Presentation:
Upon arrival at the LifeHub building, Dr. Karl Collins, the Director of LifeHub Monheim, delivered an insightful presentation emphasizing the urgent need for agricultural innovation. Dr. Collins specifically highlighted the significant contribution of agriculture to global greenhouse gas emissions, estimated at approximately 18 % according to available literature. Furthermore, he elaborated on Bayer Crop Science's pivotal role in spearheading innovative and sustainable solutions to address not only climate change but also the interconnected issue of world hunger. Consequently, Dr. Collins opened a very fruitful discussion and highlighted the urgency of innovative thinking across the disciplines. Moreover, his talk served as a compelling introduction, setting the stage for following in-depth discussions and talks on ecotoxicology and the connection of quantitative biology and data science.
3. Talk Sessions:
The ECRs engaged in two informative talk sessions featuring experts in the fields. Dr. Arnd Weyers, the Ecotoxicology expert at Bayer Crop Science, delved into the topic of "Environmental Safety of Modern Crop Protection Products." Dr. Weyers thereby did not only introduce the workflow during development of regulatory guidelines for crop protection solutions, but he also provided valuable insights into the regulatory requirements necessary for crop protection products to achieve legal approval.
Dr. Michael Edmund Beck, the Chief Data Scientist at Bayer Crop Science, offered a comprehensive perspective on quantitative biology from the viewpoint of a data scientist. He explored the interconnectedness of quantitative biology and its wide range of applications, highlighting its significance in agricultural research as well as its broader implications across various scientific disciplines.
4. Start-up Spotlight:
Dr. Prateek Mahalwar, Co-founder and CEO of BIOWEG, shared insights into the startup's innovative solutions aimed at replacing microplastics in agriculture and other industries. Dr. Mahalwar shared his experiences on his way from being an early career researcher himself to founding his own startup company. He thereby did not only deliver valuable insights into entrepreneurial endeavors within the biotechnology sector, but also catalyzed discussions on potential collaboration opportunities within the future.
5. Networking and Discussions:
Throughout the visit, the ECRs had the opportunity to engage in discussions, ask questions, and network with professionals from Bayer Crop Science. The interactive nature of the sessions facilitated knowledge exchange and provided the CEPLAS researchers with insights into how science is practiced in an industrial setting, specifically at Bayer Crop Science.

The visit to Bayer Crop Science headquarters in Monheim am Rhein provided the ECRs from CEPLAS and iGRAD-Plant with valuable insights into the latest developments in agricultural research and innovation. From guided tours to engaging discussions with experts, the agenda offered a comprehensive overview of pest control strategies, data science applications, and emerging technologies in agriculture for a more sustainable future. The visit not only enriched the knowledge of the participants but also paved the way for potential collaborations in addressing pressing challenges in the agricultural sector.

CEPLAS extends its gratitude to Bayer Crop Science for hosting the visit and providing an enriching experience for the ECRs. Special thanks to all the speakers, tour guides, and staff involved in organizing and facilitating the event.


Exploring sustainable “Pest Control” at Bayer

Written by the CEPLAS Early Career Researchers Abdulkabir O. Abdulmalik and Nhu L.T. Tran

Our recent guided tour at Bayer provided a fascinating insight into the cutting-edge developments in pest control, led by Jürgen Benting and organized by Nisha Mahendrarajan (LifeHub Monheim). The tour featured an in-depth exploration of Bayer's commitment to sustainable practices and environmental responsibility.

Insecticide Development:

Bayer is at the forefront of developing insecticides that are not only highly specific but also environmentally conscious, avoiding harm to beneficial organisms such as honeybees. The journey of insecticide development involves a rigorous process of screening thousands of molecules through in vitro and in vivo assays.

The selection process narrows down the candidates, leading to extensive testing on plants. Parameters such as efficacy, absorption by plants, effectiveness, and residuals are meticulously evaluated. Before field tests, plants are subjected to simulated weather conditions, including rain, high temperatures, and humidity, to gauge the compounds' activity in various climates.

Field Testing:

The final phase of testing takes place in the field, spanning different locations both within and outside Europe. This comprehensive approach ensures that the developed insecticides are effective and adaptable to diverse environmental conditions.

Greenhouse Innovations:

Bayer's commitment to safety extends to its testing facilities. The guided tour also included a visit to a state-of-the-art greenhouse equipped with automatic spraying devices. These devices not only facilitate seamless lab-to-field transfer for testing but also play a crucial role in protecting the well-being of workers.


Talk Session

Ensuring safety of modern crop protection - insights from Maxie Kohler’s talk on metabolism studies

The talk aimed to shed light on Bayer's commitment to developing sustainable and safe pesticides, emphasising the importance of assessing residuals that make their way from plants and soil to livestock and eventually into the human body.

Maxie Kohler explained that while everything has a hazard potential, the actual risk is contingent upon exposure. The risk evaluation process involves analysing various parameters, starting with the identity and concentration of metabolites in food.

One key aspect of the talk was the integration of data of human food consumption. By incorporating these, Bayer ensures that the hazard potential is contextualised with the exposure in the broader scope of people's dietary habits. This approach allows for a more nuanced understanding of risk, considering not just the inherent hazard but also the practical exposure levels in everyday life.

Maxie Kohler emphasised Bayer's commitment to transparency and accountability in the risk evaluation process.

Modelling of insect development times using Dynamic Energy Budget (DEB) model - Christian Baden

This talk highlighted Bayer's approach to predicting development times in laboratory cultures of insects as a step towards effective pest control.

Modelling insect development trajectory requires critical considerations on the temperature dependence of growth behaviours and model variability in development times.  Christian Baden’s talk focussed on the dynamic energy budget (DEB) approach that is being used to simulate organism performance in terms of growth and reproduction. In Bayer's commitment to enhancing food quality, the DEB approach proves valuable for analysing conditions in insect rearing, enabling informed decisions on optimal temperature regimes, and establishing ad libitum food levels. This was another session that showcased the incredible work that underlies the production of effective pest control products and management strategies.

Quantitative biology from the perspective of a data scientist - Dr Benjamin Buer

While exploring the “behind the scenes” of pest control product development, Benjamin shared interesting views on how data scientists help in the process of new target discovery and validation.

Benjamin Buer explained that target identification is one of the most critical steps in chemical genetics and drug discovery. Interestingly, Bayer adopts two complementary screening approaches to identify starting points for novel products: biological in vivo screening and target-based in vitro/in silico screening. Data scientists work at the intersection of these approaches. They work with the results of bioscreening to understand what the mode of action of a bioactive molecule and use in silico systems to facilitate target-based screenings. In this approach, knowledge graphs and systems biology are utilised for target discovery and target assessment.

Technological advancements in transcriptomics have helped in making the process of target discovery easier. Benjamin Buer explained how biological data has significantly contributed to cell type identification, cell hierarchy reconstruction, inference of regulatory networks, transcriptional bursting, and stochastic gene expression. These advancements have, in turn, facilitated the validation processes for target genes. Bayer’s team of data scientists continuously work to build computational tools to aid these processes. In the end, Benjamin Buer concluded, that integration of knowledge and insights generated by such tools is essential for target identification and validation.

The future of Innovation Agriculture: Eike Heilmann’s talk on small molecules research in the CropKey Era

Under the motto "produce more, restore more," Eike Heilmann shared insights into the team's journey, spanning from the design of novel molecules to the development of production lines aimed at minimising the carbon footprint. Products developed with this novel approach are called “CropKey”.

The core ethos of the "Innovation Agriculture" team reflects a commitment to not only increasing agricultural productivity but also contributing to ecological restoration. Eike Heilmann highlighted the dedication to creating new molecules from scratch, initiating a comprehensive process that encompasses screening and the establishment of production lines designed with sustainability at the forefront. Eike Heilmann also provided valuable insight into the time-intensive nature of small molecules research, emphasising that it typically takes 12-14 years "from first discovery to market."

The talk illuminated the forward-thinking approach of Bayer's "Innovation Agriculture" team with the CropKey concept. By prioritising the development of molecules with a novel and by-design-safe mode of action as well as sustainable production processes, the team exemplifies Bayer's commitment to shaping the future of agriculture responsibly. The 12 -14 years journey from structure to market highlights the dedication and patience required to bring about meaningful and impactful innovations in the field of crop protection and agricultural sustainability.




Bayer's dedication to sustainable and responsible pest control practices was evident throughout the guided tour. The company's holistic approach, from meticulous laboratory testing to extensive field trials, reflects its commitment to providing effective solutions while prioritising environmental and worker safety.

This report serves as an acknowledgement to Bayer's ongoing efforts to address pest control challenges responsibly and underscores its position as a leader in developing innovative, sustainable solutions for a greener future.


Written by the CEPLAS Early Career Researcher Anupama.

CEPLAS organized an industrial visit to Bayer AG, Crop Science Division (Global headquarter) at Monheim am Rhein on August 17, 2023, for CEPLAS early career researchers. Bayer AG, a leading life science company that developed Aspirin, was established in 1863. The Bayer CropScience Division is the largest agrochemical company and focuses on chemical and biological crop protection products , seeds and traits and digital farming.

Health for all, Hunger for none.

Dr. Jürgen Benting (Scientific Lead LifeHub Monheim) and Ms. Nisha Mahendrarajan (Operations Manager LifeHub Monheim) welcomed us at the main gate of Bayer CropScience. With a humble and outgoing attitude, Dr. Jürgen Benting explained the process of testing the insecticides on the different pests, such as sucking pests (Aphid), moths, mites, thrips, beetles and nematodes, without affecting the beneficial insects such as honey bee, ladybird and predatory mite. In addition to this, a detailed explanation was given regarding how insecticides target the nervous system of insects to kill them, different assays to test the toxicity of insecticides at the laboratory and field levels and the contribution of Bayer CropScience to worldwide crop protection. Then we all visited the research area where the plants are grown, and the insect rearing is carried out. Many products like fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides were displayed in the foyer, which aided us in better understanding the products manufactured by Bayer.

Next, an expert team of scientists from the field of entomology, metabolomics, and data science presented their respective field of work at Bayer. This session was quite interesting and informative as it gave us excellent insight into the interdisciplinary research world of Bayer. The topics of discussion were modelling insect development times to provide biologists with insects at the proper developmental stage necessary for molecules sensitivity assays, metabolism and kinetics of agrochemicals and quantitative biology from the perspective of a data scientist. The enthusiasm of Dr. Christian Ulrich Baden, Dr. Nina Kausch-Busies, and Dr. Marc Lamshöft during their presentation was appreciable. Through the Q&A session with them, we get to know more insights about the research, career path and achievement. A few challenges faced by the company that were discussed were as follow.

  1. The difficulty of accessing new varieties of insects for research due to the Nagoya protocol.
  2. Lack of the availability and accessibility of negative results in the database is challenging the machine learning approach to designing new compounds.
  3. The impact of pulling Roundup, a popular weed killer, in the market was also discussed briefly during the discussions.

After the Q&A session, we all had informal lunch with Bayer’s scientists, which was also engaging and fruitful. Everyone was telling about their research field, scientific journey, and experience. We ended up taking group photos for our memory.

Most of us are always curious to know the working style difference between academia and industry. This visit was helpful for young researchers to get more insights regarding their career path. We loved the spirit, knowledge, enthusiasm, and cooperation of Bayer’s scientists towards us during our visit. We felt so welcome and recommend the visit to all students of CEPLAS.

Written by our early career researcher Mara.

All seats were taken in the meeting room that morning when we visited LemnaTec with 10 CEPLAS members. LemnaTec is a small company of around 30 employees located in Aachen in a modern industry park with a futuristic atmosphere.We were greeted and hosted by two friendly scientists named Dr. Marcus Jansen, a plant scientist, and Dr. Tino Dornbusch, an application engineer. Both joined LemnaTec about four years ago and have been academic postdocs before. Now they both work at the interface of application and customer interaction and are involved in most of the processes running at LemnaTec.

The company is specialised on the development of plant phenotyping equipment and corresponding software, which is used by scientists all over the world. Among the customers you find academic and non-academic research institutions as well as industry. LemnaTec’s main strength is the support of their clients in developing standardised phenotyping pipelines and translate phenotypes into reproducible numbers. Moreover, they work on commercialisation of ideas to bring innovations developed by research institutions to the market.

We learned about LemnaTec’s technology and most interestingly about the success story of LemnaTec how the company was founded in the Ecotoxicology department at RWTH, the University of Aachen in 1998. Back in the days of 1990s when digital cameras were not common yet, the company’s founders started with developing a method to simplify their work of counting and assessing duckweed [Lemna minor] in larger scale. 20 years later we look at a giant technology leap into the digital age where LemnaTec constructed the largest agricultural phenotyping robot in the world, which is now scanning through an experimental field in Arizona, USA with a lenght of 200 meters, carrying  2 tons of electronic equipment. It is amazing that behind all that is a small company with around 30 employees in Aachen.

Tino and Marcus were very enthusiastic about their work and clearly stated the diversity of their duties in the company like programming, engineering, science, customer service and training, sales and administration as a clear plus and see it as a big advantage in their personal development.
LemnaTec is constantly working on new innovations and is therefore always keen on interacting with scientists who might apply and test their new innovations on their research objects. Therefore, CEPLAS will definitely stay in touch.

Bottom-line: LemnaTec supports customers with their equipment and especially with discovering the optimal phenotyping pipeline to save work force, to automate and standardise the process. Something we bench workers dream of.

On October 16, 2017 18 CEPLAS young researchers were visiting guests in the headquarters of the company WeGrow GmbH in Tönisvorst. WeGrow develops and implements Kiri-cultivation projects for sustainable timber production. The Kiri tree is considered to be the strongest growing tree of the world that can grow 5 meters in a year under ideal growth conditions. Mr. Peter Diessenbacher, the technical manager and founder of WeGrow personally welcomed the visiting CEPLAS young scientists. He was enthusiastic and open while telling about the founding history of WeGrow that arose in year 2009 as a spin-off company from a research project at the University of Bonn. In an active exchange with Mr. Diessenbacher the CEPLAS visitors received first-hand information about the Kiri cultivation, the application of Kiri timber as well as the experience and challenges of a company foundation. On a tour through the company the CEPLAS scientists visited the WeGrow laboratories, green houses and the Kiri plantation and had the opportunity to see Kiri plants in different growing phases, as fragile plants growing on medium in  plastic dishes or as trees on plantations in nature. At the end of the visit everyone got a souvenir Kiri plant in a test tube. We thank WeGrow for the warm welcome and the interesting insights in the world of Kiri tree production as well as the history of WeGrow’s foundation.

In January 2017 a group of 18 CEPLAS young researchers had the opportunity to visit the KWS Saat AG in Einbeck, near Göttingen. They were accompanied by Andreas Weber, Rüdiger Simon and Juliane Schmid. KWS Saat AG is the 4th largest producer of crop seeds worldwide. A guided tour through the company production facilities and brand new greenhouses provided interesting insights into the challenges and technical solutions of producing high quality crop seeds. KWS Saat employers later presented their positions in the company and very openly discussed differences between university and company employment. In a lively session with the group, breeding objectives such as yield, stress resistance and processability were discussed. Political topics such as the use of conventional breeding versus GMOs in Europe were also addressed. The subsequent poster session, where CEPLAS young researchers presented their projects, was well attended by KWS SAAT scientists and fruitful discussions took place.

Cultural and social aspects were addressed in the evening, when Günter Strittmatter met the group and a city tour guide presented the small town of Einbeck and its history, whose wealth in former times was largely dependent on the production of beer. In line with this, the group spent the evening in the tavern Brodhaus, enjoying dinner and a beer-tasting.

Jennifer Hage-Hülsmann and Vera Wever

In late September 2016 a small group of CEPLAS young researchers visited Phytowelt Green Technologies GmbH in Cologne. Four Postdocs and six PhDs were accompanied by Ute Höcker, speaker of the CEPLAS Graduate School. While the head office of Phytowelt Green Technologies GmbH is located in Nettetal, the R&D facilities are situated at Cologne BioCampus which hosts numerous companies from the life science sector and is one of the largest biotechnology parks in Germany. 

Phytowelt Green Technologies as it exists today was founded in 2006 as a spin-off from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research. The service and research processes of the company bridge white and green biotechnology including an expertise on secondary plant metabolites and their production in microorganisms as well as the improvement of plants as renewable resource for bioenergy and biomaterials by protoplast fusion. 

After a brief welcome by the company’s CSO, Dr. Guido Jach, our young researchers had the opportunity to present their work in an elevator pitch. After that the group got an inside into the main research activities of Phytowelt, focusing on the production of doubled haploid plants (expert Dr. Jens Weyen) and protoplast fusion. The excursion was completed by a visit to the company’s poplar field next to the BioCampus. CEPLAS young researchers were given the opportunity to see tetraploid poplar lines with increased biomass – a vivid result of Phytowelt’s experience in protoplast fusion.

In mid February, a group of 14 CEPLAS Ph.D. students and Postdocs participated in an excursion to Berlin to visit the BASF company metanomics. The group was accompanied by Rüdiger Simon and Günter Strittmatter. 

The company is specialised on metabolite profiling and was initially founded as a joint venture between scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology and BASF AG and is now a member of the international BASF Plant Science platform. After an introduction by the company’s CEO, our young researchers had the opportunity to present their projects to a group of metanomics scientists and to get a guided tour through the large facility park and the greenhouses. After that, CEPLAS young researchers and metanomics scientists met again for subsequent networking. Short talks about the research divisions of the company and their focus were followed by stimulating discussions.

Apart from the highly interesting visit at metanomics, the CEPLAS group took the time for a guided city tour in Berlin and visited the German Bundestag where they were lucky to take part in an official debate.

On September 10-11, 25 PhD students and Postdocs took part in the excursion to Keygene and Nunhems organised by CEPLAS. On the first day, the young researchers visited the company Keygene in Wageningen who offer trait platforms as well as innovative echnologies for plant breeding. There, they were able to get insights into their impressing sequencing facility and the phenotyping lab. 

On the second day, the company Nunhems (part of Bayer Crop Science) was visited. Nunhems is specialised for high-quality vegetable seeds. At the large company, the participants got to see different labs and afterwards the giant cucumbers in the greenhouse, used for seed production. In both companies, the young researchers had the opportunity to present their own research projects and to discuss issues of mutual interest.

…and more:

  • Qiagen GmbH, Hilden, Germany; March 2015
  • Bayer Crop Science, Ghent, Belgium; 2014
  • Saaten Union GmbH, Leopoldshöhe, Germany; November 2013