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Vale: Professor Jens Wünsche


Professor Jens Wünsche, University of Hohenheim

The apple and pear industry has lost a passionate and tireless inquisitor and innovator in German researcher Professor Jens Wünsche, University of Hohenheim, who died on 27 January.

Jens is well known to the Australian industry for his collaborative work with Australian researchers to understand and tackle biennial bearing under the levy-funded Productivity, Irrigation, Pests and Soils (PIPS) projects and for his animated and engaging presentations.

Prior to that he worked for many years on tree architecture and fruit quality with Plant and Food Research in New Zealand.

Jens presented to industry on the biennial bearing work only last October with Prof. Henryk Flachowsky, Julius Kühn-Institute (Germany), in APAL’s webinar series.

He was last in Australia for Hort Connections in Brisbane in 2018, shortly after which he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

APAL director Kevin Sanders said his death was devastating news for the industry, his colleagues and his wife Judith and young daughters Charlotte, Helene and Henriette.

“He knew when he got back to Germany that he had a terminal disease, but he battled on and kept working to the end. He was that sort of guy,” Kevin said.

“He is a huge loss; he was such a support to our industry. He spoke at our conferences and in webinars and was so passionate about his work. He was quite a loquacious guy, if you got him on a subject he was interested in, you’d be hard put to stop him, he was so enthusiastic. I will miss him dreadfully.”

Former APAL Technical Adviser Angus Crawford, now with Driscolls, said Jens’ reputation for scientific rigour and attention to detail had put him at the top of his field. When combined with his practical field experience and ability to put complex information into clearly understood terms, he was an outstanding communicator highly sought after for his ability to transfer knowledge.

“One of the things he was good at was finding ways to put scientific information simply,” Angus said. “He was a professor, and he was very good at explaining things, but practical and equally good in the field.”

Angus undertook a short two-week Summer School course in plant physiology with Jens in Germany 2018 and said the importance of scientific rigour was a theme Jens returned to again and again.

“He’d have good debates, but when you debated, everything he said was back up by scientific information, there was always a solid basis,” Angus said.

“He was always coming back to the need for information to be fact driven, he had a passion for scientific thinking and rigour and that’s why he’s at the top. Not only in his own work, but he edited a lot of magazines and made sure everything that was written was rock solid.

“He was passionate about issues, always questioning, it was a continuous part of who he was and his scientific craft.”

biennial bearing the squad the boys watch out

The German-Australian research team working on biennial bearing in apple: (from left to right) Henryk Flachowsky, Jens Wünsche, Julian Kofler, Anton Milyaev, and Dario Stefanelli.

Dario Stefanelli, fellow researcher and collaborator with Jens in the PIPS biennial bearing work, prior to moving to a new position last year as Lead Scientist, Fruit and Perennial Crops with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, WA, spoke of Jens’ invaluable research legacy and his friendship and hospitality.

“Jens was a lovely and lively person, extremely knowledgeable but very down to earth,” Dario said. “It was his policy to invite visitors and colleagues for a home-cooked work dinner, saying that it was his way to show his appreciation and respect for the person.

“He treated everybody as friends independently of their status. As a colleague and fellow researcher, he will be sorely missed. His contribution to the worldwide apple industry through his research on flowering and biennial control was invaluable. The contribution he gave to the Australian apple industry was extremely important to better define molecular aspects of biennial bearing. He will be missed greatly by his students as well, but they will definitely continue his legacy in understanding biennial bearing.”

View Jens’ recent articles on the APAL website

Minimising biennial bearing in apples (Oct 2020)

What triggers biennial bearing in apples? (Dec 2019)

Finding the triggers of biennial bearing (Jan 2019)

Understanding biennial bearing (Aug 2018)

Physiological, metabolic and molecular basis of biennial bearing in apples (July 2015)

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