It is with great sadness that we share the news that Thomas Hohn passed away last week, aged 85. Thomas was a group leader at the FMI for 25 years and Titular professor at the Botanical Institute of the University of Basel. He was a pioneer in plant molecular biology and made fundamental discoveries in plant viruses.Thomas Hohn grew up in Austria and studied at the Max Planck Institute in Tübingen, Germany. He then performed postdoctoral studies at Yale and later at Stanford, USA. He started his independent research at the Biozentrum in Basel before joining the FMI as a group leader in 1978, where he continued to work until his retirement in 2003.
With his group, Thomas made fundamental discoveries in virology, originally working on bacteriophages and later focusing on plant viruses.
During the heyday of plant research at FMI in the 1980s, Thomas, in collaboration with the groups of his wife, Barbara Hohn, and Ingo Potrykus, established protocols for transferring foreign genes to plants. These protocols, and the promoters his group designed for high-level gene expression, are landmark contributions to the technology for genetically modifying plants that are used world-wide for crop improvement.
Later in his career, Thomas focused on plant defenses against virus infection. Working on Cauliflower Mosaic Virus, he discovered special viral translation strategies. He also contributed to establishing the role of Dicer-like enzymes in the massive production of small, silencing RNAs representing virus DNA.
For many years, he was actively involved in the Indo-Swiss Collaboration in Biotechnology project, working together with Indian scientists to apply biotechnology for the improvement of pulses and cassava for use by subsistence farmers.
After his retirement, Thomas continued to run a laboratory at the Botanical Institute, University of Basel for several years. He also remained an active member of the FMI community, regularly attending our seminars and institute events. He was a fan of the outdoors and loved different cultures and travelling the world.
Thomas was an inspiring scientist with broad interest and a generous colleague, mentor, and friend to many. We are grateful to Thomas for his contributions to science and the FMI community and we will hold his memory in the highest esteem. Our thoughts are with his wife and his family.