Heribert Hirt


Professor of Plant Science | Principal Investigator of the Darwin21 Lab




Heribert Hirt obtained his DSc in 1987 at the University of Vienna. In 2001, he received the Wittgenstein Prize, Austria’s highest distinction for scientific achievements. Hirt helped found the Gregor-Mendel Institute and became its Vice-Director. Later, he was President of the Austrian Society of Genetics, Head of the Department of Plant Molecular Biology at Max F. Perutz Laboratories, Director of the URGV Plant Genomics Institute, and Director of the Center for Desert Agriculture at KAUST. From 2010-2013, he was President of the European Plant Science Organisation. Hirt is Research Director at INRAe and functions as an expert for various organizations such as the NSF, the ERC, the DFG, and the Austrian Ministry of Science.

Research Interests

For thirty years, Hirt has studied how plants can adapt to abiotic or biotic stress conditions. At KAUST, he launched the Darwin21 project to bioprospect various hot deserts for beneficial microbes that can ultimately enhance plant survival and growth on hyperarid lands by increasing heat, drought and salt resistance. Hirt hypothesizes that with better understanding of desertification and plant-soil-biome ecosystem it is possible to revert hyperarid lands into functional ecosystems. His key research area is the study of desert soil, plants and microbes and their use in establishing natural sustainable systems in land restoration, landscaping and agriculture, without relying on chemicals or pesticides.

Selected Publications

  • Identification of an ABA-independent oxylipin pathway that controls stomatal closure and immune defense in Arabidopsis, Montillet JL, Leonhardt N, Mondy S, Tranchimand S, Boudsocq M, Garcia AV, Douki T, Bigeard J, Laurière C, Chevalier A, Castresana C, Rumeau D, Hirt H, PLoS Biology, 2013, 11(3):e1001513.
  • Linking the proteins – elucidation of proteome-scale networks using mass spectrometry, Pflieger D, Gonnet F, van Bentem S Hirt, H, de la Fuente A, Mass Spectr. Rev., 2011, 30:268-97.
  • New insights into an old story: Agrobacterium-induced tumour formation in plants by plant transformation, Pitzschke A, Hirt H., EMBO J., 2010, 29:1021-32.
  • VIP1 response elements mediate mitogen-activated protein kinase 3-induced stress gene expression, Pitzschke, A., Djamei, A., Teige, M., Hirt, H., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., 2009, USA, 106:18414-9.
  • Trojan horse strategy in Agrobacterium transformation by abusing MAPK defence signalling, Djamei, A., Pitzschke, A., Nakagami, H., Rajh, I., and Hirt, H., Science, 2007, 318, 453-456.


  • Post-doctoral fellow, Institute of Microbiology & Genetics, University of Vienna, 1990
  • Post-doctoral fellow, Department of Microbiology, Oxford University, 1988
  • Post-doctoral fellow, Institute of Biochemistry, University of Vienna, 1987
  • PhD, Biochemistry, University of Vienna, 1987
  • MSc, Biochemistry, University of Vienna, 1983
  • BSc, Biochemistry, University of Cape Town, 1978