Ann Depicker Lab

Research focus

The research objective of the “Plant-made Antibodies and Immunogens” group is to apply plant transformation and transgene expression systems for molecular farming of recombinant proteins. Our major goal is to further develop the seed platform in order to create an alternative cost effective system for the production of complex recombinant proteins such as antibodies and composite vaccines.
Plants are gaining acceptance as a platform for large-scale production of recombinant proteins. The main advantage is the anticipated cost savings, reflecting the large amount of biomass that can be produced in a short time with no need for specialized equipment or expensive media. Seed based platforms are particularly attractive because they allow recombinant proteins to stably accumulate for long periods of time at a relatively high concentration in a compact biomass in which they are protected from degradation.
By using a seed-specific expression cassette based on the regulatory signals of seed storage proteins of common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), and by targeting the recombinant protein to the endoplasmatic reticulum (ER), we obtained the highest yields of recombinant proteins in plants described so far: a single-chain variable fragment (scFv) accumulated to levels in excess of 36% of total soluble protein (TSP) in homozygous Arabidopsis seeds, while retaining its antigen-binding activity and affinity (De Jaeger et al., 2002). The major advantage of Arabidopsis seeds as protein production platform is the very easy and quick transformation method, allowing to compare the accumulation levels of different constructs and the quality and functionality of many protein variants. After 6 months, the different transformants can be screened for the highest expressors, and those can then be scaled up to gram amounts of seeds to provide proof of concept with seed extracts or with the purified protein.  Once an application is validated, the same expression cassette can be transferred to a protein seed crop such as soya or pea, to bulk up the protein production.
Currently, a whole range of proteins are produced in the seeds: antibodies against diseases for passive immunization (De Buck et al., 2013; Virdi et al., 2013; Cardoso et al., 2014), antibodies which will be used as functional tool for plant biotechnological research (De Meyer et al., 2014 a &b) and a modular design of subunit vaccines in different formats to enhance immunogenicity.


Using GlycoDelete to produce proteins lacking plant-specific N-glycan modification in seedsPiron R, Santens F, De Paepe A, Depicker A, Callewaert NNATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY, 33, 1135-7, 2015
Comparison of VHH-Fc antibody production in Arabidopsis thaliana, Nicotiana benthamiana and Pichia pastorisDe Meyer T, Laukens B, Nolf J, Van Lerberge E, De Rycke R, De Beuckelaer A, De Buck S, Callewaert N, Depicker APLANT BIOTECHNOLOGY JOURNAL, 13, 938-47, 2015
Nanobody-based products as research and diagnostic toolsDe Meyer T, Muyldermans S, Depicker ATRENDS IN BIOTECHNOLOGY, 32, 263-270, 2014
Single-Domain Antibodies Targeting Neuraminidase Protect against an H5N1 Influenza Virus ChallengeLopez Cardoso M, Ibanez L, Van den Hoecke S, De Baets S, Smet A, Roose K, Schepens B, Descamps F, Fiers W, Muyldermans S, Depicker A, Saelens XJOURNAL OF VIROLOGY, 88, 8278-8296, 2014
Orally fed seeds producing designer IgAs protect weaned piglets against enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli infectionVirdi V, Coddens A, De Buck S, Millet S, Goddeeris B, Cox E, De Greve H, Depicker APROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 110, 11809-14, 2013

Job openings


Turning plant seeds into medicine factories

29/04/2016 - By jointly applying the GlycoDelete technology to plant seeds, the researchers have demonstrated that plant seeds can serve as a medium for the inexpensive and large-scale production of biotech medicines.

VIB/UGent researchers enable safer production of biotech medicines using plant seeds

01/12/2015 - The VIB and Ghent University professors Ann Depicker and Nico Callewaert have achieved a significant biotechnology breakthrough that targets the production of medicines.

Anna Depicker

Anna Depicker

Research area(s)

Model organism(s)


​PhD: Ghent Univ., Ghent, Belgium, '79
VIB Group leader since 1996
VIB Division Coordinator since 2003

Contact Info

VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems BiologyUGent-VIB Research Building FSVMTechnologiepark 927 9052 GENTRoute description