Professor Karl Kunert obtained his PhD in natural science at the University of Konstanz in Germany in 1976. He spent 13 years in the United Kingdom at the John Innes Institute in Norwich and the University of Oxford, and three years in France at the INRA in Versailles. In 1991 he joined AECI Ltd Research and Development in South Africa, and in 1998 he joined the University of Pretoria as Professor in Botany in the Botany Department and Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute. He was appointed full-Professor in the Botany Department in 1999. He has nearly 30 years experience in plant stress physiology, having gained his technical and managerial experience by working in different academic environments and also in industry. This includes the Universities of California (Davis, CA) and Konstanz (Germany), the John Innes Institute (Norwich, UK), INRA Versailles (Versailles, France) and the Research and Development Department of AECI Ltd (Johannesburg, South Africa).
Having received several funds from both governmental agencies and industry during his career, he has developed an excellent understanding of the demands of the Plant Physiology/Biochemistry and Plant Molecular Biology sectors.
Dr Kunnert’s work contributes to understand the mechanisms allowing plants of relevance to Africa to survive in these environments by being exposed to abiotic and biotic threats relevant to Africa. His research deals with improvement of survival of legumes under drought and to search for ways to delay senescence processes by manipulating the protease/protease inhibitor system.
His research also deals with broad spectrum pathogen resistance in African crops. The systemic acquired resistance pathway plays a key role in conferring resistance to a broad range of pathogens in response to initial infection by a single pathogen. The non-expresser of pathogenic resistance (NPR) genes are key modulators of this pathway Dr Kunnert’s research aims to unravel the function and activation of these genes in Arabidopsis but also in crop plant species in which these genes have so far not been described (banana). Dr Kunnert envisages eventually using this information to better understand the crop’s response to pathogen infection and ultimately also use this information to design crops that can better withstand biotic stresses.