Division of Crop Biotechnics
Chair: prof. Rony Swennen
The division of Crop Biotechnics conducts fundamental and applied research into those processes, at the cell/tissue-plant-field level, that support the durable production of high qualitative food crops and ornamental plants.
Life is situated at different levels and each higher level is more complex than the sum of the individual units at a lower level. In that respect we can distinguish the level of the cell, the plant and the ecosystem. During the last two decades, there has been a spectacular growth in biotechnological research, leading to fundamental insights into the molecular processes of model plants. At the highest level much research efforts were performed to get further insights into the ecosystem of plants. The division of Plant Crop Biotechnics links the cell level (lower level) with the environment (higher level). Indeed, the scientific community does not give enough attention to this interaction in plants, although this is essential for the progress of our knowledge of crops. Gathering of knowledge on annual and perennial fruits and ornamental crops of the temperate and tropical areas and vegetables grown in fields and greenhouses is thereby central in our mission.
To allow the sustainable cultivation of these crops, different aspects for an integrated cultivation are investigated to realize a production system that uses optimally different inputs (water, light, temperature, CO2, nutrients, crop protectants and growth regulators) in relation to the environment. The research focusses on the analysis of plant biodiversity, the genetic basis and the integrated use of tools for agricultural purposes. The reaction of the plants against (a)biotic stress factors (both at the genomic and phenotypic level) is investigated. The development and characterization of plant collections support this goal (in the field, in vitro, and under cryopreservation circumstances). The variability and the induced reactions are at the basis of research into plant-environment interactions (at the molecular, biochemical and biotope level), supporting modified cultivation methods, as well as the control of diseases and pests, by adapted cultural techniques, and biological and genetic methods. Complementary is the development of resistant varieties via different breeding approaches and technologies which integrate both classical hybridization and modern biotechnological techniques. For this, it is necessary to obtain insights into the morphogenesis and reproduction of crops and the food quality (plant physiology, genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, plant hormones, ... ), resistant properties (at the molecular and plant structural level) to accelerate the development of plants on demand.
The division disposes of world renowned collections and knowledge of apple, pear, banana and Bromeliaceae, and furthermore has expertise on cherry, plum, strawberry, carrot, lettuce, cabbage, chicory, leek and potato. This expertise has resulted in applications in apple breeding (spin off company Better 3 Fruit), in the fertilization and irrigation advise program for almost all crops grown in Belgium and France (spin off company Soil Service of Belgium), and a better management of the world banana collection for the FAO (International Transit Center).
The division hosts the following laboratories: