Wolf Frommer believes that understanding the basic mechanisms of plant life can help us solve problems in agriculture, the environment and medicine, and even provide understanding of human diseases. He and his colleagues develop fundamental tools and technologies that advance our understanding of glucose, sucrose, ammonium, amino acid, and nucleotide transport in plants.
Transport proteins are responsible for moving materials such as nutrients and metabolic products through a cell’s outer membrane, which seals and protects all living cells, to the cell’s interior. These transported molecules include sugars, which can be used to fuel growth or to respond to chemical signals of activity or stress outside of the cell. Measuring the activity of transporter proteins in a living organism has been a challenge for scientists, because the methods are difficult, often require the use of radioactive tracers, and are hard to use in intact tissues and organs.
Among other innovations, Frommer and his team developed so-called nano-sensors that, with advanced imaging methods, can measure metabolites in live plant and animal cells. This work helps to understand how plants distribute energy from leaves, the sites of photosynthesis, to roots and seeds.
Frommer and his team hypothesized that it may be possible to probe transport activity by spying on the structural rearrangements that a transporter undergoes as it moves its target molecule across the membrane barrier. They did this by encoding environmentally sensitive fluorescent tags in the cell’s DNA
Frommer works to solve both fundamental and real-world problems. His work provides the foundation for increasing the yield of crops and bolstering the world’s food supply. In addition to his basic research, Frommer was founder of the biotechnology company SYMPORE GmbH, in Tübingen, and was a founder and vice president of the Joint Bioenergy Institute’s Feedstocks Division, in Emeryville, CA. He was also a visiting faculty member at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories.
Frommer joined Carnegie in 2003 as a staff member. Just four years later he became acting director of the department, a position that became permanent in 2009. In 2016, he stepped down as director to become a staff scientists again. Before coming to Carnegie, Frommer was a full professor and Chair of Plant Physiology at the Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen in Germany where he led a group of 80. He was also cofounder and director of the Center of Plant Molecular Biology in Tübingen, where he oversaw a staff of 150. For more see https://dpb.carnegiescience.edu/labs/frommer-lab