Science Director: Dirk Inzé
The mission of the VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology is to make significant contributions to solving grand challenges by laying the scientific foundation for innovations in plant biotechnology and enabling such innovations to find their way into society.
The world market for plant-derived products is expected to grow exponentially in the coming decades. Not only do we rely on plants to feed the growing world population, but plants will also play a pivotal role by providing a significant portion of our energy needs and fulfilling society’s demand for renewable industrial resources. It is expected that (bio)technological advances will make it possible to further boost crop productivity and quality and to develop agricultural practices in better harmony with nature. Furthermore, our center is contributing to the basic science that is required to develop crops that are more resilient to climate change and select plants that may play an important role in mitigating the rising levels of greenhouse gases. Genome editing is pivotal to obtain these ambitious goals. The center is working in the following five societal challenges:
Sustainable bio-energy and bio-based products
The use of fossil resources, like coal and petrol, results in a net increase of atmospheric CO2, which drives climate change. Plants have the unique ability to capture CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into biomass. This makes sustainably grown and processed plants a renewable and environmentally friendly resource for biofuels and biochemicals. Plants that are specifically tailored to suit industrial processing are an extremely valuable asset for tomorrow’s bio-based society.
Climate resilient crops
Climate change is one of the most serious threats humanity has ever faced. Developing crops that are more resilient to rapidly changing and harsher environments will be crucial for tomorrow’s food production. Green biotechnology, together with other innovative strategies to adapt current agricultural approaches, offers solutions to maintain high food productivity while preserving the earth’s valuable ecosystems.
Nature has provided us with a wealth of plant species that have evolved to cope with very difficult environments. Genetic variation as a driver for this diversity can lead us to solutions for plant production in a changing environment. Thanks to the genomics revolution, we now have the tools at hand to fully grasp this potential. The opportunity to mine breeding stocks and seed banks brings with it the obligation to help protect them.
Innovative crop care
Crops are under continuous threats, which jeopardizes food production. Innovative solutions that optimize crop productivity and quality with a minimal impact on the environment are needed. This involves a plethora of strategies, including the study of the rhizosphere, the use of beneficial microorganisms, crop imaging for precision agriculture, diagnosis tools for crop traits, and the identification of novel growth regulators.
Plants and human health
Food has a huge impact on our health and on disease prevention; a balanced diet is essential for a healthy body. This depends not only on safely produced grains, vegetables and fruits, but also on sufficient intake of vitamins and minerals, and access to health-promoting molecules. Research on plant metabolic pathways is needed to produce food sources or plant-derived products that will benefit public health.
The VIB Center for Plant Systems Biology is active within VIB and the University of Ghent. Since its inception, the research performed at the VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology has generated keen interest from (inter)national industrial companies leading to industrial collaboration contracts and has led to the establishment of new spin-offs.
Genome editing will become of pivotal importance to select for improved crops that are more resilient to climate change and allow for a more eco-friendly agriculture. For this, it is crucial that the ECJ ruling regarding the use of CRISPR is reversed so that this new technology can be fully exploited also here in Europe. Dirk Inzé is the founder of the EU-SAGE network representing 132 European Plant Science institutes and learned societies that have joined forced to provide information about genome editing and promote the development of European and member state policies that enable the use of genome editing for sustainable agriculture and food.
Funding & partners
Our research is supported by the Flemish government and several (inter)national funding bodies but also by that recognize the importance of innovations in plant biotechnology and enabling such innovations to find their way to society.
VIB-UGent for Plant Systems Biology
UGent-VIB Research Building FSVM