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Spotlighton Honoured ISHS Members: Georg Noga
Interview: Chronical Horticulturae, Volume 58 | Number 4 | 2018
Welcome of Georg Noga (left) and Georg Ebert (third from left, Head of Research Division, Compo Expert Co. Ltd., Münster, Germany) by the Director (second from left) and staff of Najran Horticulture Development Research Center, Najran, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in 2006, in context with an FAO Expert Mission.
Former ISHS Treasurers Rob Bogers (left), Richard H. Zimmerman (second from right) and Georg Noga (right) as well as Dr. Jung-Myung Lee (second from left) at the get-together of the Lisbon Congress (IHC2010). In the background: Rod Drew.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself (hometown, current locale, family, hobbies, community
I was born in 1952 in Ratibor, Oberschlesien, moved with my parents at the age of six to the western part of Germany, and grew up in a small city (west of Hannover) surrounded by agricultural land. As a young boy, during schooI holiday periods, I earned some money on farmers’ fields by crawling on all fours along the rows and thinning young sugarbeet seedlings. This made me proud on the one hand, since I earned my own money, but on the other hand this was a very demanding job, resulting in awful back pains at the end of the day. This is probably the reason why – in my later career – I found thinning of fruit trees much more attractive. Originally I wanted to become a medical doctor. After finishing high school, I had to join mandatory military services in the German army starting as tank grenadier and being promoted to Lieutenant later on. Luckily, I received the chance in the last six months of my two-year service to transfer to the medical corps, providing me with good training as a professional nurse. These were the best prerequisites for my intended medical studies. Fortunately, with respect to my later horticultural career, I was not successful with my medical study application in the first run and therefore I decided to start out with food and nutrition sciences at the University of Bonn. Since I liked this subject, I carried on and received my major diploma in nutrition sciences. In my final oral exams, the director of the Institute of Nutrition Sciences offered me a position as a graduate student, and I accepted this totally unexpected offer. The topic I was supposed to work on was to elucidate and measure exothermy in humans as dependent on different diets and to find out – in simple terms – why certain individuals can eat a lot without being afraid of gaining weight. Forty years later, this still is a hot topic! However, after getting started and talking with experts in this field, I reached the conclusion that this would be “mission impossible” since it was supposed to be a one man show – with no major experience and active support from the institute.
2. What got you started in a career in horticultural science?
By chance, one month later, I received a letter of invitation from Prof. Dr. Fritz Lenz, who had just taken over directorship of the Institute of Fruit and Vegetable Crops at Bonn University. Dr. Lenz was well known
internationally for his photosynthesis expertise, and he had established excellent facilities for CO2 gas exchange and transpiration measurements as well as for nutrient element analyses in his institute. He attracted many outstanding scientists like the late Shaul P. Monselise from Israel, Alan Lakso, Ted DeJong and James Flore from the USA, and many other real photosynthesis experts. There were unique opportunities for scientific interaction, even though my PhD work was on “Rough peelness and retarded color formation in the Satsuma mandarins in West Turkey” comprising two central parts: one on chemical analyses (chlorophylls, carotenoids) and one on tree and fruit physiology. In this context, I developed an HPLC method
for separation and identification of citrus peel carotenoids. At that time, the first HPLC machines had just become available and by size occupied a whole lab. The physiological part of my study focused on plant hormones and growth regulators, at a time when, in the early 80s, one thought that they were the clue to solving many problems in plant production and crop management. At least, this period gave me a good insight and understanding of the role, use and physiological implications of growth regulators. Besides, in
context with my PhD work, I had the opportunity to conduct field experiments with citrus at Ege University, Izmir, Turkey, to further develop TLC and HPLC based carotenoid analyses together with Dr. Jeana Gross at
Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and to interact with Prof. Monselise and Prof. R. Goren. These were real exciting times, especially as a young PhD student to be given the unique chance of interacting with and benefiting from such outstanding scientists.
Georg Noga (center), Walter Müller (former Internal Auditor of ISHS, left) and Jozef van Assche (Executive Director of ISHS, right) inspecting the impressive Amorphophallus titanum plant with world record flower organ (in the back) in the Botanical Gardens of Bonn University in 2009 after a KoGa Advisory Board meeting.
Welcome of DGG-President Prof. Christian Ulrichs (fourth from left) and DGG members by Prof. Ulrich Schurr (center, red sweater) at Juelich Research Center, Germany, for demonstration of the phenotyping facilities. The visit was part of the post-congress program, when Georg Noga and his team were hosting the Annual Meetings of the German Horticulture Society (DGG) in 2013.
3. Give a brief overview of your career/achievements.
After finishing my PhD under the guidance of Prof. Lenz in early 1981, he strongly encouraged me to spend a postdoc with Dr. M.J. Bukovac, distinguished full professor at Michigan State University and member of
the National Academy of Sciences. Luckily, I was awarded a research grant by the German Science Foundation (DFG) to elucidate the physiological basis of fruit thinning chemicals. I also used the opportunity of my postdoc to study the mechanisms for uptake of pesticide active ingredients and the role of surfactants, one of the special research topics of John Bukovac. I learned a lot from him, for example good hypothesis based research and facts of life, such as “There is no reason not to be as precise as possible” or: “Whatever
you do, always have a plan B ready in case something does not work or goes wrong.” He also taught me that in addition to becoming a good researcher or scientist I should not neglect to further develop skills for managing private affairs and my personal future including my economical situation. He was like a father and a fantastic mentor – for science and life. I am very grateful to him. After returning from the US, I accepted an
offer from Prof. Lenz and took over a tenure track administration/management oriented position. Mainly in the evenings, after regular office hours and on weekends, I devoted my extra time to elucidating the biological side effects of adjuvant application. With significant financial support from industry, I established methods and equipment for measuring pigments and carbohydrates (HPLC), ethylene, ABA, CO2 and O2 (GC), and proteins (gel electrophoresis). Even today I am very grateful to Prof. Lenz for providing me with as much operational freedom as possible to allow me to achieve my individual research goals and build up my own group. In 1990, I completed my “Habilitation” thesis, and became head of the Postharvest Division in
the Institute of Prof. Lenz. In 1995, I accepted an invitation from Stuttgart-Hohenheim University to become Chair of the Specialty Fruit Crop Institute and head of Bavendorf Fruit Research Station at Lake Constance. Collaboration with extension services and fruit growers broadened my mind, and I learned how to align or bridge specific interests of science and industry. In 1998, I was invited to take up a chair back in Bonn, and became head of the Institute after retirement of Fritz Lenz. Twenty years later, I am looking back on 40 challenging but also highly rewarding years as a horticulturist, bridging the sometimes diverging or even contradictory views and interests of academia, horticultural practice, consulting and executive management.
As a plant/fruit physiologist and head of an internationally oriented, highly dedicated research team, I have been privileged to do pioneer research in elucidating and understanding central plant defense mechanisms
in fruit and vegetable crops. In the last decade of my research I very much enjoyed engagement in interdisciplinary research and development clusters (Crop-Sense, BioSc) together with leading groups
of the ABCJ (Aachen, Bonn, Cologne, Juelich) region, to contribute to the development of non-invasive techniques for sensing and differentiating biotic and abiotic stresses in plants. Special emphasis was also given to the implications of stress for health benefits, e.g. enhancing the content of vitamins and secondary metabolites in fruits and vegetables. Overall, the outcome of my research resulted in five patents and more than 150 refereed scientific publications in international journals.
4. What do you consider your greatest achievement to be?
First of all, I suppose, I have found great satisfaction in providing leadership to and motivation of my team(s), identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each individual thoroughly and making efficient use of the positive attributes, experiences and strengths. This has laid the foundation for driving the positive developments and to stand up with my institute to the various challenges and tests in a highly competitive
and dynamically changing environment. In 2002, with the Federal State of Rhineland-Palatinate as a partner, on my initiative, we established KoGa (Center of Competence for Horticulture) at Bonn University. In 2009,
Juelich Research Centre (FZJ) with a strong focus on development of innovative technologies, and, in 2012, the Chamber of Agriculture for North Rhine-Westphalia (LWK-NRW), joined the consortium. KoGa is a unique
consortium in Germany providing a rapid transfer of research results into the respective target groups. It also enriches education and training, by allowing students, trainees and young researchers to interact within
interdisciplinary research groups very early in their careers. Since its establishment, KoGa has made
important contributions through numerous national and international collaborative projects and project clusters. In 2009, we launched the KoGa/African Research Network Initiative (ARNI) based on the strong
involvement of Alexander von Humboldt (AvH) fellows, where I had the pleasure to have been selected as host for their repeated postdoc stays in Bonn. We identified joint research priorities, focusing on environmental issues that constrain food production in African countries. It is an endorsement of all our hard work and also fills us with pride that the Humboldt Foundation – inspired by the KoGa-ARNI concept and taking this as a model – established AGNES, the African-German Network of Excellence in Science. Together with my colleagues Hassan Ali-Dinar and Clement Adebooye, I had the honour and pleasure to be invited to be one of the founding members of AGNES in the constitutive meeting in 2011 in Nairobi. Another highlight was when my friend and Humboldtian, Isaac Aiyelaagbe, was elected as member (representing Africa) of the
new ISHS Board of Directors recently in the ISHS Council meeting prior to the IHC2018 in Istanbul. I always loved networking and bringing things forward for the benefit of the community. I am pleased that apparently some of these contributions were acknowledged. It definitely was a great honor, when in 2013 I was awarded the status of Honorary Member of the Italian Society for Horticultural Science (SOI), in 2016 ISHS Honorary Membership, and in December 2017 the Gold Medal of the Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of Rhineland. I am very much honoured to have been granted these great awards and dedicate these to the staff of my institute, who backed up my various involvements through all the years and made my engagement
for society and industry possible.
Visit of the Tropical Greenhouse of Prof. Jens Gebauer, Kleve University, Germany, as part of a KoGa-African Research Network Initiative (ARNI) workshop in 2017. From left: Prof. Dr. Clement Adebooye (Humboldt Ambassador for Nigeria), Prof. Dr. Mohamed Fouad Abdalla (AvH Fellow and Pro-Dean, Assiut University, Egypt), Georg Noga and Prof. Dr. Isaac Aiyelaagbe (AvH Fellow and current representative for Africa on the Board of Directors of ISHS, Ibadan University, Nigeria).
Georg Noga receiving the Tenhaeff Gold Medal for extraordinary services from the President of the Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association Rhineland, North-Rhine Westfalia, Germany, in 2017.
5. Did you encounter difficulties along your career path and how did you deal with them or how did you turn them into opportunities?
I would not say difficulties, I would prefer the term challenges! This has a positive implication. And there were many challenges along my scientific career. Let me highlight just the first and the last in my career. My PhD, under the scientific guidance of Prof. Lenz, included field trials in Izmir. I had no background in horticulture except for a two-semester lecture that was mandatory in the nutrition sciences study. Therefore, Prof. Lenz proposed and arranged a three-day practical instruction session on the field experimental station in Bornova, Izmir. However, after flying in, he was completely “captured” by the Dean and department chairs and their great Turkish hospitality. And I was waiting impatiently on the experimental station for three whole days looking for shade under the citrus trees at outside temperatures of about 40°C. Then, about an hour before boarding the aircraft, Prof. Lenz finally showed up on the field station. He was followed by four department
chairs who kept reminding him that it was time to go to the airport. Lenz looked at one of the citrus trees and recommended finding out where specifically rough peel and color deficient fruits were located. Then he left.
From that moment I knew that I was on my own and that it was up to me to design and develop the thesis – independently and under my own responsibility. This was a very valuable experience and I am grateful that I
made it at the beginning of my career path!
The other major challenge was about two years ago, at the end of my career. In times when in the industrialized countries horticultural departments were increasingly being questioned, I had
been hearing rumors in my faculty that after my retirement, my institute was also top of the list for closure. I immediately
laid aside several of my honorary duties, decided not to stand for another term as candidate for the ISHS Board and devoted all my time and energy to preparing a turnaround of the tentative faculty decision. It
took extraordinary efforts (about a year) to convince individuals/colleagues and faculty. Due to an increasing number of students in horticulture, the strong involvement of our institute in strategically important interdisciplinary projects, excellent support from regional horticultural industry and great performance
of the institute, we successfully pursuaded the faculty to refill my position.
6. Tell us about one funny/exciting/interesting experience that happened to you during your career.
A funny experience I recall was a very painful one – at least for me. During my Hohenheim/Bavendorf period, I had been invited to give a presentation to 200 growers in South Tirol, Italy. Unfortunately, the day before I
suffered from awful back pain due to a prolapsed disc. I could not move at all or bend my back. Not giving my presentation was a no go! So I asked two of my PhD students, Michaela Schmitz and Guido Schnabel, both
full professors now, to lay me in a horizontal position in the trunk of a station wagon and to transport me over the Alps to Tirol. You should have seen their incredulous looks! However, they followed my instruction, unloaded me in Bozen-Meran, put me in the vertical position in front of the microphone in the big conference hall, and I gave my presentation, followed by great applause by the audience.
7. What made you become a member of ISHS and why did you keep the membership? What contribution or role has ISHS played in your career?
In 2000, when I was elected Vice-President of the German Society of Horticultural Science (DGG), my colleague Manfred Schenk, University of Hannover, served as President of DGG. The two of us were invited to represent Germany as delegates at ISHS Council meetings. Application for ISHS membership was a long
overdue act then. I recognized the potential, outreach and fantastic services that ISHS provides to its members, especially when compared to our relatively small DGG. I made so many friendships in ISHS and I felt like being part of a family I could always count on. When elected as President of DGG, the Society was going through a critical period with enormous challenges: progressively declining membership, and we were confronted by the fact that no more manuscripts were coming in to “Gartenbauwissenschaft”, the DGG owned journal, in which the majority of articles were written in German. Inspired by the positive development of ISHS, the idea matured to strengthen DGG by boosting internationalization through
- establishing a closer partnership with ISHS;
- giving the stranded scientific journal “Gartenbauwissenschaft” a new design and orientation and renaming it to “European Journal of Horticultural Science” (eJHS) with articles in the English language only.
- the initiative to launch together with our friends in ISHS the “International Symposium on Horticulture in Europe (SHE)” in Vienna. It is a well-established symposium series now.
Since the start of my membership over all the years until most recently, I was given the opportunity to serve ISHS and to give something back in return for all the continuous support, friendship
and hospitality I have received: German delegate in ISHS Council (2000-2004), Internal Auditor of ISHS (2004-2010) and member of the ISHS Board of Directors (2010-2014) – probably the highlight
of my career. From 2014-2018, I contributed
as Internal Auditor of ISHS, first with Geoff Dixon and then with Rob Bogers, both experts in finances and real good friends.
8. What advice would you give to young people interested in a career in horticulture/horticultural science?
You should have a great interest in plants and curiosity to discover and explore their diversity, structure, role and function as well as their potential use. This should go along with strong determination, passion and commitment, with other words: Go for what you are burning for! If you pursue a career in horticulture, you have to really enjoy what you do. This is the best prerequisite for finding your way. You don’t necessarily have
to follow the mainstream. Try to find out your own priority field or niche. Fascination paired with curiosity will certainly help you to move forward from the descriptive approach to elucidating and understanding the often very complex phenomena. Here, ISHS with its profound data base, vast literature collection, symposia and contacts is a fantastic supporter and partner!
9. What are the most interesting new roles or opportunities you see emerging in the future within horticultural science?
First in line is to combat climate change and to develop sustainable solutions for feeding the world in order to secure the basis of life for future generations. In this context, there are (too) many new opportunities that are
emerging but also challenges, such as digital farming and precision horticulture, including precision irrigation systems, introduction and implementation of advanced sensor technologies and pesticide application devices
to compensate for increasing restrictions for use of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers. Another challenge is to find solutions and alternatives for the growing amounts of plastics used in agriculture/horticulture, where the yearly plastics usage amounts to 6.5 m tons, threatening our environment and health. Availability and affordability of labour is a driving force for robotics in horticultural production, where besides the need for “hightech” developments there is also a need for competence in horticultural science. I am fascinated by the opportunities that vertical farming is providing, where plants can be grown well-protected from adverse climate and being highly resource efficient (water, nutrients) in closed systems in almost any part of the world, even in the desert, and in a more sustainable way. Who else other than horticulturists, embedded in
a strong community like ISHS, could provide such fundamental knowledge and expertise on plants, sustainable production processes as well as on produce quality and food safety?