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Heribert Hirt

Professor, Plant Science​​​

Research Interests

Prof. Hirt’s research is focused on how plants can survive under abiotic or biotic stress conditions. The main interest lies in how protein kinases can reprogram gene expression. At KAUST, Prof. Hirt is establishing two research groups. One research group focuses on how MAP kinases target chromatin to prime stress tolerance at both the genetic and the epigenetic level. The other research group searches for rhizosphere microbes of desert plants and investigates their potential and mechanisms to induce stress tolerance in plants. Although the major part of these two projects is carried out in Arabidopsis, the generated knowledge will be applied to crop plants with the aim to provide sustainable solutions to reestablish agriculture in arid regions or under extreme environmental conditions.

Selected Publications

    •    Frei Dit Frey N, Garcia AV, Bigeard J, Zaag R, Bueso E, Garmier M, Pateyron S, de Tauzia-Moreau ML, Brunaud V, Balzergue S, Colcombet J, Aubourg S, Martin-Magniette ML, Hirt H. (2014) Functional analysis of Arabidopsis immune-related MAPKs uncovers a role for MPK3 as negative regulator of inducible defences. Genome Biol. 15(6):R87.
    •    Montillet, J.-L., Leonhardt, N., Mondy, S., Tranchimand, S., Rumeau, D., Boudsocq, M., Garcia, A.V., Douki, T., Bigeard, J., Laurière, C., Chevalier, A., Castresana, C., Hirt, H. (2013) An ABA-independent oxylipin pathway controls stomatal closure and immune defense in Arabidopsis. PLoS Biol. 11(3):e1001513.
    •    Schikora A, Garcia AV,Hirt H.(2012)Plants as alternative hosts for Salmonella.Trends Plant Sci 17:2459.
    •    Berriri S, Garcia AV, Frei Dit Frey N, Rozhon W, Pateyron S, Leonhardt N, Montillet JL, Leung J, Hirt H, Colcombet J. (2012) Constitutively Active Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Versions Reveal Functions of Arabidopsis MPK4 in Pathogen Defense Signaling. Plant Cell 24:4281-93.
    •    Pitzschke A, Hirt H.(2010) New insights into an old story: Agrobacterium-induced tumour formation in plants by plant transformation. EMBO J. 29:1021-32.
    •    Pitzschke, A., Djamei, A., Teige, M., Hirt, H. (2009) VIP1 response elements mediate mitogen-activated protein kinase 3-induced stress gene expression. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 106:18414-9

Education Profile

  • 1987               Dr. rer. Nat. (University of Vienna)
  • 1984 - 1987   PhD thesis, Inst. of Biochemistry, Vienna / Topic: Isolation and Characterization of the Human Growth Hormone Gene Locus.
  • 1983              Mag. rer. nat. (Univ. of Vienna).
  • 1981 - 1983   Diploma thesis, Inst. of Biochemistry, Vienna / Topic: Characterization of Microtubule-Associated Proteins.
  • 1979 - 1981   Study of Biochemistry, Univ. of Vienna, Austria.
  • 1978              B.Sc.(Distinction).
  • 1976 - 1978   Study of Biochemistry, Univ. of Cape Town South Africa.
  • 1967 - 1975   Johannes Kepler Gymnasium Reutlingen, Germany

Professional Profile

  • 2014            Director, Center for Desert Agriculture, KAUST, Saudi Arabia

  • 2008-2013   Director, URGV Plant Genomics, Evry, France

  • 2006-2007   Head of Dept. of Plant Mol. Biology, Univ. Vienna, Austria

  • 2002-2004   Vice-Director, Gregor Mendel Institute, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, Austria

  • 2001-2003   Dean of graduate studies, Vienna Biocenter, Austria

  • 1991            Professor of Genetics, Univ. Vienna, Austria

  • 1989-2009   Group leader, Univ. Vienna, Austria

  • 1988-1989   Post-doc, Univ. of Oxford, UK

  • 1987-1988   Post-doc, Med. Univ. Vienna, Austria


  • 2014  ISI Highly Cited Researcher

  • 2011  King Saud Distinguished Fellow

  • 2010  ISI Highly Cited Researcher

  • 2008  Elected EMBO Member

  • 2006  Elected Member of Pauli Institute

  • 2001  Wittgenstein Price

  • 1993  Biochemical Society Price

  • 1988  EMBO Fellowship


  • 2010 - 2013  President of the European Plant Science Organisation.

  • 2005 - 2007  President of the Austrian Society of Genetics and Genetic Engineering ÖGGGT.

  • 2005             Scientific Advisory Board Member of Göttingen Center of Molecular Biosciences.

  • 2002 - 2005  Executive board member of the Austrian Society of Genetics and Gene Technology ÖGGGT.

  • 2002 - 2006  Committee member of MASC