Interview Bart Thomma

Bart Thomma was elected as the new CEPLAS deputy speaker. In an interview, he speaks about his motivation to take on the new role and the main tasks he will focus on.


Question 1: What motivated you to take on the role of the CEPLAS deputy speaker?

CEPLAS is one of the most impressive powerhouses in the field of plant biology in Europe. Personally, I owe CEPLAS massively as it provided substantial support to make my Alexander von Humboldt professorship at the University of Cologne possible. Thus, without CEPLAS, I would not have been in the fortunate position to continue my career here in Germany. I hope that, by taking up a leadership role as co-speaker, I can pay back some of what I owe. Furthermore, I really look forward to help shape CEPLAS such that it remains its leading position at the forefront of plant and microbial biology.

Question 2: What significant challenges do you associate with your new role? What do you want to focus on?

The first and foremost task will be to come up with a tantalizing CEPLAS 3 proposal that will lay out what’s next after the “SMART Plants for Tomorrow’s Needs” of CEPLAS 2. To do this, research areas 1 and 2 should come closer and integrate more, in my eyes, such that we develop a more integrated view on plant performance that can explain how plants deal with complex environmental challenges in a wider biotic context. This wider context comprises the organisms I have been fascinated by for a major part of my life: microbes.

Besides shaping CEPLAS 3, I would like to focus on growing the CEPLAS community. I am sure that many superb scientists that are affiliated with CEPLAS PIs or CIs perform exciting research that touch upon topics that are relevant for CEPLAS, while they themselves are not affiliated with us. I think we should bring them under the CEPLAS umbrella such that out critical mass, impact and visibility grows, but also to give more scientists the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of what CEPLAS has to offer.

Question 3: What are you most looking forward to in your new role, and what do you not enjoy as much?

I look forward helping to shape not only what plant science of the future looks like from a scientific point of view, but also how some of that science is done, in Germany. This goes together with thinking about the education of the next generation of plant scientists, and what is needed to set and maintain a healthy, sound, and inclusive scientific culture. These are all matters that are close to my heart. It would be great if we could develop some of this in strategic alliances with some of the other European power houses in plant sciences, such as Wageningen University in the Netherlands, VIB in Belgium, or the John Innes Center in the UK.

If I am honest, I need to admit that I have little affinity for administrative “duties”. However, CEPLAS has a great office with dedicated professionals who do a wonderful job with respect to all organizational matters. So, I am very much convinced that I can stay a bit away from what I don’t enjoy that much and leave this in more competent hands.

Question 4: CEPLAS is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. Where do you see CEPLAS in 10 years?

In ten years, CEPLAS will have further established its internationally leading position in plant and microbial sciences, and I foresee we will have established strong alliances with other internationally leading research centers in the field. We will have established a significantly advanced understanding of how plants can perform optimally in diverse environments, and cope with the various stresses that they face in agricultural production systems. This should allow not only to design plants that perform better under the challenges they face, but also to inform the design of novel cultivation practices such that, in the end, we can optimize plant production in a much more sustainable manner for future generations to come.