My career path
I am both full professor at Ghent University and group leader at the VIB center of Plant Systems Biology in Belgium and divide my energy between managing my research group, teaching and organizing University education. It is my goal to combine research and education because I think they cannot be separated and they strengthen each other.
My research career started in 1987 at the UGent focusing on how interactions between plant roots and neighboring organisms influence plant growth in a positive way.
Initially, the emphasis was on the symbiosis between legumes and rhizobia, resulting in the formation of new root organs, the nodules, in which the rhizobia reside and fix atmospheric nitrogen for the plant. At that time, we studied the non-model symbiosis between the tropical legume Sesbania rostrata and the bacterium Azorhizobium caulinodans and could unravel the early signaling events and specific adaptations that have evolved to enable this peculiar nodulation upon water submergence. During my post-doc and early group leader career, we studied long-distance control of nodule organogenesis in the model legume Medicago truncatula and made significant contributions to understand how the nodule number is controlled.
During my early career, I went three times abroad for a prolonged period at the Laboratoire de Biologie des Sols, ORSTOM (Dakar, Sénégal) (Prof. Dreyfus), at the MSU-DOE, Plant Research Laboratory, Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI, USA) (Prof. De Bruijn) and at the ETH-Zürich, Institute of Plant Sciences (Prof. Potrykus), providing me both international connections and abroad research experience.
In 2005, I became professor at the Ghent University in the currently named Department of Plant Biotechnology and Bioinformatics. This department is also embedded in the VIB Center of Plant Systems Biology of the VIB. Since 2010, I am appointed full-time principal investigator of the Rhizosphere group at VIB. In my group, we still study the molecular communication between roots and rhizosphere microorganisms but the studies go beyond the rhizobia legume interaction as you can read from our web page. In 2017, I became full professor.
I find it very important that our basic research has valuable economic and societal relevance. Together with VIB colleagues, I am very proud to have established the start-up Aphea.Bio (www.aphea.bio) that focusses on the use of plant growth promoting rhizobacteria in agriculture.
Office: Technologiepark 71, 9052 Zwijnaarde, Belgium
Office Phone: +32(0)93313910