High-ranking keynote speakers from academia and industrial sectors will participate in Phytofactories 2023:

  • Engineering of plant terpene production
    Alain Goossens, VIB Center for Plant Systems Biology and Ghent University (BE)
  • Cultured plant cells as sustainable, reliable and economical production platforms for high value plant-derived chemicals
    Gary J. Loake, University of Edinburgh (UK)
  • Plant biotechnology for industrial applications
    Kirsi-Marja Oksman-Caldentey, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd (FIN)
  • Conservation of plant genetic resources and prospects of cryopreservation
    Bart Panis, Bioversity International and KU Leuven Division of Crop Biotechnics (BE)
  • Processing of plant biomass for high-added value biobased applications
    Bart Van Droogenbroeck, ILVO (BE)
  • New diphenylurea-derived cytokinin oxidase/dehydrogenase inhibitors for in vitro shoot regeneration from plant tissue
    Stefaan Werbrouck , Ghent University (BE)

More details

Prof. Dr. Alain Goossens, Group leader at the VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology, Full Professor at Ghent University, Gent, Belgium

Alain Goossens obtained his PhD in Marc Van Montagu’s and Geert Angenon’s lab at the Laboratory of Genetics, Ghent University (1998), after which he performed postdoctoral studies at the IBMCP-UPV in Valencia (Spain) in the lab of Ramón Serrano. He returned to VIB-Ghent University and started his own research group within the VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology at Ghent University in 2003, focusing on phytohormone signaling and plant specialized metabolism. He is experienced in yeast and plant functional genomics, molecular biology and applied biotechnology.

His current research aspires to understand jasmonate signaling in model, crop and medicinal plants and unravel the mechanisms that steer plant metabolism in fitness programs to find novel tools for plant metabolic engineering. In 2020 he was elected as an EMBO fellow and since 2015 he has been continuously included in the Thomson Reuters list of Highly Cited Researchers.


Presentation: Engineering of plant terpene production

Nature has invented strict, yet not fully understood, regulatory networks that control plant metabolism. These networks safeguard plant fitness in a continuously changing environment. By investigating the reprogramming of plant metabolism by developmental and environmental cues, we aim to advance our fundamental understanding of the mechanisms that steer plant metabolism. We specifically focus on jasmonate (JA), the phytohormone that steers the delicate balance between growth and defense programs across the plant kingdom, including the production of bioactive specialized metabolites. In parallel, this enables us to unlock plant specialized metabolism for numerous human applications given that our findings serve simultaneously as a novel resource for engineering tools that facilitates the creation of (plant-based) synthetic biology platforms for the sustainable production of high-value plant metabolites. I will exemplify this by reporting on our recent work on the biosynthesis of bioactive terpenes, in model plants such as Arabidopsis, and crops such as tomato and chicory.

Prof. Gary J. Loake is interested in plant disease resistance and the cognate production and regulation of immune-related natural product molecules. He obtained his PhD from the University of Durham, UK, followed by a Salk-Noble Postdoctoral Fellowship, enabling him to pursue research at the Noble Foundation, Oklahoma USA with Rick Dixon (NAS) and subsequently the Salk Institute, California with Chris Lamb (FRS, CBE). Gary then returned to the UK to work with Professor Diana Bowles (OBE) at the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products, University of York. Subsequently, he took-up a faculty position at the University of Edinburgh, where he is now Professor of Plant Molecular Sciences and is also a member of the Zhejiang University-University of Edinburgh Joint Research Centre for Engineering Biology (JRCEB) in Haining, China.

Gary is a former President of the Society of International Plant Reactive Oxygen and Nitrogen Species, co-founder of the Scottish Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) and is founder of a plant biotechnology company. He has been awarded many national and international grants and has sat on numerous institution strategic advisory groups and grant boards.

Gary has published ~140 publications with many in high profile journals including Nature, Nature Biotechnology and Nature Communications, among others.

Presentation: Cultured plant cells as sustainable, reliable and economical production platforms for high value plant-derived chemicals

High-value plant-derived natural products are often sourced from slow-growing, undomesticated, protected, endangered plant species, routinely growing in remote locations. These species are also routinely subject to seasonal harvest, poor soil conditions, disease, extreme climate change and political instability. Together these conditions adversely affect their supply chain reliability and economic availability/applicability. Cultured plant cells, especially cultures derived from vascular stem cells, often represent a more sustainable biomanufacturing alternative to wild harvest. Large scale high yielding plant cell culture-based biomanufacturing also addresses climate change impacts by reducing land use, carbon emissions, fossil resources/energy utilization, water use and waste. We will present some of our work within this important area.

Dr. Kirsi-Marja Oksman-Caldentey, PhD (Pharm) is currently Senior Advisor at VTT and Adjunct Professor at the University of Helsinki. During 25 years at VTT she has held different positions such as Research Manager, Technology Manager and Head of Plant Biotechnology. During her early career, she worked in the academia in Finland and the big pharma industry in Switzerland. Her research interest is to understand the complex biosynthetic machinery of plant secondary metabolism, and how using functional genomics tools we can direct plant cells to produce known or novel compounds in large scale for industrial use.

Kirsi-Marja’s expertise covers pharmacologically active plant metabolites, plant cell culture technologies, bioprocessing, and cellular agriculture also for non-pharma applications. She has coordinated several large national and EU-funded research consortia, published more than 120 original research papers (H-index 45, 7732 citations), and is recipient of three prestigious awards.

Presentation: Plant biotechnology for industrial applications

Modern plant biotechnology offers advantages to develop new type of ingredients for industrial applications in an environmental friendly and sustainable way. We have developed, based on our proprietary bioprocessing technologies of Nordic berry species including their cell cultures, industrial-scale production systems of multifunctional ingredients with new or improved bioactivities. In vivo findings show that ellagitannins, dimeric sanguiin H-6 and sanguiin H-10 isomers, derived from berries are very effective against MRSA bacteria thus opening entirely new avenues in wound healing and fighting against antibiotic resistance [1]. Plant cells have conventionally been used to produce single metabolites e.g. pharmaceuticals. However, their use as a whole cell biomass for plant-based food production is a new approach [2]. As a case study, we will show how cultured cells from coffee plant can be processed to obtain coffee and discuss future perspectives of cellular agriculture [3].

[1] Puupponen-Pimiä R, Nohynek, L, Suvanto J, Salminen JP, Seppänen-Laakso T, Tähtiharju J, Honkapää K, Oksman-Caldentey KM. Natural antimicrobials from Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) seeds by sanding and hydrothermal extraction. ASC Food Sci Technol 2021; 1: 917-927

[2] Nordlund E, Lille M, Silventoinen P, Nygren H, Seppänen-Laakso T, Mikkelson A, Aura AM, Heiniö RL, Nohynek L, Puupponen-Pimiä R, Rischer H. Plant cells as food – A concept taking shape. Food Res Int 2018; 107: 297-305

[3] Rischer H, Szilvay GR, Oksman-Caldentey KM. Cellular agriculture –Industrial biotechnology for food and materials. Curr Opin Biotechnol 2020; 61: 128-134

Dr. Bart Panis obtained his PhD in 1995 at the University Leuven, Belgium, where he was involved in cryopreservation and the development of embryogenic cell suspensions, protoplast culture and techniques for genetic engineering of banana.  As postdoctoral researcher and later on as research manager, he co-ordinated different international projects dealing with plant biotechnology and cryopreservation. In 2013, he started working for Bioversity International and developed the world’s largest banana cryobank. Major achievements are the development of a novel plant cryopreservation protocol (i.e. droplet-vitrification) and a novel and patented micropropagation protocol for coconut.

Bart Panis is currently member of the editorial board of CryoLetters and Associate Editor of PCTOC. He trained more than 100 researchers from all parts of the world on plant cryopreservation and developed protocols for about 50 plant species. His research was written down in more than 400 contributions, resulting in an h-index of 32.

Presentation: Conservation of plant genetic resources and prospects of cryopreservation

The safe conservation of plant genetic resources is pivotal to ensure food security in this changing world of climate change and human population growth. For this, seed collections are established for many species. There are, however, plants that do not produce seeds, that produce non storable, recalcitrant seeds or that are usually clonally propagated—since its offspring does not have the same genetic set up when propagated by seed.  For such species field, in vitro and cryopreserved collections are setup. Focus of this presentation will be on the applications and prospects of cryopreservation to preserve plant genetic resources for the long term.

Dr. Bart Van Droogenbroeck graduated in 1999 as Bio-Engineer with great distinction at Ghent University and obtained his PhD in Applied Biological Sciences in 2004 from that same university. From 2004 ‘till 2007 he has worked as a post-doc at the Flemish Institute of Biotechnology (VIB).

Since 2007 he joined the Technology & Food Science Unit at ILVO. Here, he is involved in the conception and coordination of research projects at the regional, national and EU level in the field of sustainable agri-food production, bio-economy, circular economy and plant biotechnology, with a special attention towards the optimal use of plant biomass, and a focus on nutritive, healthy (and bioactive) food components.

Presentation: Processing of plant biomass for high-added value biobased applications

Plants are capable of producing a huge diversity of secondary metabolites, some of which are classified as ‘bioactive compounds’. This has led to applications in a wide range of bio-based products, ranging from food, feed, up to higher added value applications such as biostimulants, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. However, to extract and purify the active compounds, time-consuming and expensive methods are often needed. Both from a cost-saving perspective, and the ambition to develop more sustainable methods, process and product innovation in this field are a priority in our research agenda.

We will show some results of process (e.g. spiral filter press, pulsed electric fields, enzyme-assisted extraction) and product innovations (biostimulant, cosmetics), with Cichorium biomass as an example of an interesting feedstock rich in bioactive compounds. Such innovations, along with advances in analytical and functional characterization, will boost the commercial viability of novel bio-based application and promote a future sustainable circular economy.

Bibliographical references

Häkkinen ST, Cankar K, Nohynek L, Suomalainen M, van Arkel J, Siika-Aho M, Twarogowska A, Van Droogenbroeck B, Oksman-Caldentey KM (2022). Enzyme-treated chicory for cosmetics: application assessment and techno-economic analysis.
AMB Express, Dec 6;12(1):152. doi: 10.1186/s13568-022-01494-8

Suvi T. Häkkinen, Katarina Cankar, Liisa Nohynek, Jeroen van Arkel, Markus Laurel, Kirsi-Marja Oksman-Caldentey, Bart Van Droogenbroeck (2023) Cichorium intybus L. hairy roots as a platform for antimicrobial activity. Pharmaceuticals 2023, 16(2), 140; https://doi.org/10.3390/ph16020140

Ogunsanya HY, Motti P, Li J, Trinh HK, Xu L, Bernaert N, Van Droogenbroeck B, Murvanidze N, Werbrouck SPO, Mangelinckx S, Ramirez A, Geelen D. (2022) Belgian endive-derived biostimulants promote shoot and root growth in vitro. Sci Rep. 2022 May 25;12(1):8792. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-12815-z

Prof. Stefaan Werbrouck heads the Laboratory for Applied In Vitro Plant Biotechnology at UGent. He has nearly 30 years of experience in plant tissue culture and has a strong track record in service projects exploring many aspects of the major sub-domains of this technology. The central motivation of his team is to provide innovative solutions for the in vitro cloning of superior herbaceous and mainly woody plants for food, feed, fibre, pleasure and pharma. A good scientific network and own research results ensure a continuous inflow of new research resources and tools. The well-equipped lab cooperates worldwide with companies and research groups familiar with local plant species and growing conditions to find long-term solutions. They develop new in vitro strategies and strive to discover the unexpected.

Presentation: New diphenylurea-derived cytokinin oxidase/dehydrogenase inhibitors for in vitro shoot regeneration from plant tissue

One of the strategies to influence local cytokinin homeostasis in in vitro plants is to avoid their degradation by cytokinin oxidase/dehydrogenase (CKX). In recent years, new classes of potent inhibitors of these enzymes have been developed, the most important of which are derived from diphenyl urea. Before applying them in micropropagation systems, they were first tested in vitro on isolated CKX enzymes. We showed that these compounds, unlike TDZ or CPPU, do not possess intrinsic cytokinin activity, but only protect isoprenoid cytokinins from oxidation. The success of their application in vitro depends on the compound and the plant species. A number of early results will be demonstrated, ranging from shoot meristem induction to somatic embryogenesis. They appear to be promising new tools for use in plant tissue culture and biotechnology.

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