My career path
In addition of being a VIB group leader I am also holding a full professor position in the Faculty of Science at Ghent University. Next to my VIB and university research mandates I am teaching courses in the Master of Science in Bioinformatics and the Master of Science Biochemistry and Biotechnology.
I grew up in the German Palatinate region and studied Biology in Marburg, Germany, and gained first research experience during a study project in tropical northeastern Australia. Funded by the International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) I then joined the research group of Arp Schnittger and Martin Hülskamp at the Max-Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research and the University of Cologne. In 2007, I graduated with a PhD in Botany on the topic of cell cycle regulation during the vegetative and reproductive development of plants.
I continued to work on this topic for another two years before deciding to change research fields. Supported by an EMBO long-term fellowship, I joined the VIB Center for Plant Systems Biology in Ghent in 2009 to study the molecular regulation of programmed cell death (PCD) in the context of plant development.
After becoming a Junior VIB Group leader, I additionally obtained a part-time assistant professorship at Ghent University in 2013, followed by a full-time assistant professorship in 2015, an associate professorship in 2018, and a full professorship in 2020.
My team takes a systems biology approach considering PCD and its underlying mechanisms in plants as a fundamental developmental principle to solve. Developmental PCD processes occur throughout the life cycle of plants, and many of them are essential for plant development and reproduction. Despite this undebated relevance, our knowledge of how PCD is controlled on the molecular genetics level is still very limited.
Starting an independent research line on developmental PCD was and still is pioneering work. In the first years my team was busy with exploring PCD concepts and possible PCD model systems. We had to establish basic genetics, molecular, and cell biological tools to visualize, detect, and dissect PCD processes in plants. By now we are focusing on different fundamental and applied PCD model systems, including the Arabidopsis root cap, the Arabidopsis and maize endosperm, the poppy self-incompatibility response, and senescence processes in Arabidopsis and maize flowers. With this comparative approach we aim to identify conserved core elements of the developmental cell death program as well as its tissue-specific adaptations.
While research on developmental PCD in plants is still essentially fundamental in nature, we strive to discover mechanisms that are of relevance to applied questions of plant biology, for example in forestry and agriculture. Given the importance of developmental PCD and the scarcity of available information on this process, PCD research offers a considerable untapped potential to contribute to bracing our crops in the light of the ongoing climate crisis.