Frank Van Breusegem Lab

Research focus

Suboptimal growth conditions caused by drought, temperature, salt and pathogen-related stress are leading to worldwide yield losses in cultivated crops. It is anticipated that this problem becomes even bigger in the future, as climatic changes will cause more temperature and drought stress, and, in the meantime, the demand for plants for food, feed and bioenergy is increasing. This has encouraged the development of appropriate breeding strategies targeting stress tolerance and has made crop stress tolerance a major objective in plant biotechnology research.

Oxidative stress or the rise in reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels is associated with a multiple of cellular traumas in probably all living organisms (Mittler et al., 2011). Increased cellular ROS levels can originate from increased production rates through diverse oxidases and peroxidases or from overheated photosynthetic and respiratory electron transport chains. Like other organisms, plants are harnessed with a large and diversified battery of antioxidant mechanisms to detoxify diverse ROS.
Genetic perturbations of individual genes of the antioxidant network have demonstrated their key roles in keeping cellular ROS levels under control. Reactive Oxygen Species have recently emerged as important regulators of plant stress responses. Perturbation in ROS production and/or scavenging are sensed by plant cells as a ‘warning’ message and genetic programs leading to stress acclimation or cell death are switched on (De Clercq et., 2013). Knowledge on the regulatory events governing ROS signal transduction is however still scratching the surface. Through a combined top-down and bottom-up genomics approach we are dissecting the gene network governing ROS signal transduction in plants and pinpoint genes that are potential candidates for innovative molecular breeding strategies to develop stress-tolerant crops (Tognetti et al., 2010, Waszczak et al., 2014).

In addition, we study stress-related plant proteases and their inhibitors. In a recent study in collaboration with the Gevaert lab, for the first time in plants, a large scale collection of protease substrate proteins was described. From Arabidopsis thaliana seedling proteomes, several hundred substrates have been discovered for metacaspase 9 (AtMC9), giving novel insight into the role of AtMC9 in seedling development and lightning new exciting avenues for future research (Tsiatisani et al., 2013).


SHORT-ROOT Deficiency Alleviates the Cell Death Phenotype of the Arabidopsis catalase2 Mutant under Photorespiration-Promoting ConditionsWaszczak C* Kerchev P* Mühlenbock P Hoeberichts F Van Der Kelen K M'hamdi A Willems P Denecker J Kumpf R Noctor G Messens J Van Breusegem FPLANT CELL, 28, 1844-59, 2016* These authors contributed equally
The ROS Wheel: Refining ROS Transcriptional FootprintsWillems P, M'Hamdi A, Stael S, Storme V, Kerchev P, Noctor G, Gevaert K, Van Breusegem FPLANT PHYSIOLOGY, 171, 1720-33, 2016
Redox Strategies for Crop ImprovementKerchev P* De Smet B* Waszczak C Messens J Van Breusegem FANTIOXIDANTS & REDOX SIGNALING, 23, 1186-205, 2015* These authors contributed equally
Sulfenome mining in Arabidopsis thalianaWaszczak C, Akter S, Eeckhout D, Persiau G, Wahni K, Bodra N, Van Molle I, De Smet B, Vertommen D, Gevaert K, De Jaeger G, Van Montagu M, Messens J, Van Breusegem FPROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 111, 11545-50, 2014
The Arabidopsis METACASPASE9 DegradomeTsiatsiani S, Timmerman E, De Bock P, Vercammen D, Stael S, Van De Cotte B, Staes A, Goethals M, Beunens T, Van Damme P, Gevaert K, Van Breusegem FPLANT CELL, 25, 2831-47, 2013


VIB corn field trial Wetteren Genetically modified corn also larger in the field

17/12/2012 - The first harvest of genetically modified corn plants in Wetteren confirms the earlier lab results: the genetically modified corn also grows larger in the field.

VIB applies for field trial with taller maize

21/12/2011 - VIB has submitted an application for a field experiment with genetically modified maize. The maize becomes taller than conventional maize – at least in a greenhouse.

VIB-Ghent University and Bayer CropScience scientists start collaboration to accelerate improvement of agricultural crops

21/09/2011 - Using epigenetics and computational biology, the scientists will develop new molecular breeding tools. The results of the studies will be made public in scientific journals.

From bench to field and back

15/09/2011 - The rapidly growing population, accelerating climate change and a rush on biofuels are pushing plant breeders to look for crops with higher yields. Basic research into plant processes by academic and industrial scientists plays a key role.

Plant DNA detox - new ROS-scavenging pathways found

18/03/2011 - Protection from reactive oxygen species (ROS) is important for safeguarding the integrity of DNA in almost all life forms. Frank Van Breusegem describes new defense mechanisms that are complementary to the action of known nuclear ROS scavengers.

VIB and Bayer join forces for plant research

11/06/2008 - VIB and Bayer CropScience have an ongoing collaboration into the mechanisms with which plants cope with stress factors such as extreme temperatures or persistent drought.

Frank Van Breusegem

Frank Van Breusegem

Research area(s)

Model organism(s)


​PhD: Ghent University, Belgium, 1997                           
VIB Group leader since 2001

Contact Info

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