Roland Kölliker: A Passion for Breeding Research

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Roland Kölliker represents the ETH Zurich on the organising committee of the EGF- Eucarpia Symposium 2019.

“If someone is curious, persistent, has a flair for understanding complex ecological relationships, enjoys working with plants and in the lab, wants to change something, and does not fear bioinformatics and statistics, then they have what it takes to succeed in breeding research.” Born in 1968, Roland Kölliker – the source of this quote – has worked for many years in breeding research, since 2017 at the newly established Chair for Molecular Plant Breeding at the ETH Zurich under Prof. Bruno Studer, and in close cooperation with Agroscope.

After studying agronomy at ETH Zurich, Roland launched his research career with a PhD thesis in forage production – specifically, on the genetics of grassland populations – under the supervision of Prof. Josef Nösberger. This was followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in Melbourne, Australia at Agriculture Victoria’s Plant Biotechnology Centre, La Trobe University, where he developed molecular markers. Back in Switzerland, he worked from 2000 onwards at the Swiss Federal Research Station for Agroecology and Agriculture FAL – a predecessor institution of Agroscope – in the Molecular Ecology Research Group in Reckenholz. In his current capacity at ETH Zurich, he still collaborates closely with Agroscope forage-crop breeding researchers. “My colleagues abroad really envy me working this close to my fellow plant breeders.”

“When I see how young, inexperienced students develop into responsible scientists, it always motivates me afresh.”

His special wish as a researcher is to make a contribution to a more objective discussion of controversial topics in the field of plant breeding and agriculture. Asked to name an experience in his breeding-research career which he remembers fondly, he mentions an EU project dealing with the tannin content of feedstuffs. The international research consortium in question worked together with a small British seed company that had taken over a farm in order to conduct applied research on it. The company regularly invited farmers to its farm to show them on-site what positive results could be achieved with optimised feed mixtures. “A successful example of how the findings from our research could be applied directly to farming.” He is also regularly inspired by his work with PhD students, whose supervision is important to him: “When I see how young, inexperienced students develop into responsible scientists, it always motivates me afresh.”

Roland represents ETH Zurich on the organising committee of the EGF-Eucarpia Symposium 2019. He is very much looking forward to the symposium: “The meeting in Zurich in late June offers an amazing opportunity to exchange knowledge on fodder production with research colleagues in a wider environmental context.” Generally speaking, he finds it very important in research to look beyond one’s own nose. What are livestock breeding and human pathology up to? “We should be open to other disciplines, learn from them, and incorporate new findings in our own specialist areas.”