Wout Boerjan Lab

Research focus

​It is now well recognized that burning fossil fuels and deforestation are major contributors to climate change, and that plant biomass can serve as an alternative renewable and carbon-neutral raw material for the production of bio-energy and other products made from fermentable sugars. Fast-growing perennial grasses such as Miscanthus, and trees such as poplar and willow, have great potential to become major energy crops for the future. In the production of bio-ethanol, lignin is the main limiting factor because it limits the accessibility of the cellulose microfibrils to enzymatic depolymerization.

There is enormous potential for improving plant cell walls by exploiting the available genetic resources and by genetic modification. This potential has remained largely unexplored. The major long-term goal of the Bio-energy group is to understand, through systems biology (involving metabolomics and transcriptomics), the biosynthesis, polymerization and structure of lignin, and how lignin biosynthesis integrates into plant metabolism and development. This will provide the fundamental knowledge that is necessary to breed for, or engineer, plant cell walls that are easier to convert to fermentable sugars. Arabidopsis, poplar and maize are used as model systems.

Background and history of GM poplar field trial

Check out the 'Poplar Files (pdf 2MB)' for background information and a short history of the experiment with GM poplar as a source for second generation bio-fuels.


Polyploidy Affects Plant Growth and Alters Cell Wall CompositionCorneillie Sander De Storme Nico Van Acker Rebecca Fangel Jonatan De Bruyne Michiel De Rycke Riet Geelen Danny Willats William Vanholme Bartel° Boerjan Wout@PLANT PHYSIOLOGY, 179, 74-87, 2019* or °: authors contributed equally@: corresponding authors
Vessel-Specific Reintroduction of CINNAMOYL-COA REDUCTASE1 (CCR1) in Dwarfed ccr1 Mutants Restores Vessel and Xylary Fiber Integrity and Increases BiomassDe Meester B De Vries L Özparpucu M Gierlinger N Corneillie S Pallidis A Goeminne G Morreel K De Bruyne M De Rycke R Vanholme R* Boerjan W*PLANT PHYSIOLOGY, 176, 611-633, 2018* or °: authors contributed equally
cis-Cinnamic Acid Is a Novel, Natural Auxin Efflux Inhibitor That Promotes Lateral Root FormationSteenackers W Klima P Quareshy M Cesarino I Kumpf R Corneillie S Araujo P Viaene T Goeminne G Nowack M Ljung K Friml J Blakeslee J Novak O Zazimalova E Napier R Boerjan W* Vanholme B*PLANT PHYSIOLOGY, 173, 552-565, 2017* or °: authors contributed equally
Silencing CHALCONE SYNTHASE in Maize Impedes the Incorporation of Tricin into Lignin and Increases Lignin ContentEloy N* Voorend W* Lan W Saleme De Lyra Soriano M Cesarino I Vanholme R Smith R Goeminne G Pallidis A Morreel K Nicomedes J Ralph J Boerjan WPLANT PHYSIOLOGY, 173, 998-1016, 2017* or °: authors contributed equally
Silencing CAFFEOYL SHIKIMATE ESTERASE Affects Lignification and Improves Saccharification in PoplarSaleme De Lyra Soriano M* Cesarino I* Vargas Dos Santos Ferreira L Kim H Vanholme R Goeminne G Van Acker R Campos De Assis Fonseca F Pallidis A Voorend W Nicomedes J Padmakshan D Van Doorsselaere J Ralph J Boerjan WPLANT PHYSIOLOGY, 175, 1040-1057, 2017* or °: authors contributed equally

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18 of the world’s most influential researchers at VIB

20/11/2019 - Each year, Clarivate analytics identifies the world’s most influential researchers who have been cited most frequently by their peers over the last decade. No less than 18 VIB researchers are part of this highly acclaimed group of influential scientists.

VIB scientist Wout Boerjan elected as EMBO Member

11/06/2019 - EMBO membership is one of most highly prized recognitions of excellence in the life sciences for individual researchers. A deserved recognition for Prof. Wout Boerjan (VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology).

5 VIB researchers receive an exceptional ERC Advanced grant

27/03/2019 - The European Research Council is unique in its kind in Europe supporting individual top researchers from anywhere in the world for 5 years. Five VIB researchers have been awarded this competitive & widely acknowledged benchmarks of scientific excellence

Scientists discover how to increase both sugar yield and biomass production in the model plant Arabidopsis

23/02/2018 - To ease the industrial processing of plant biomass into energy, plants are engineered to contain less lignin. Unfortunately, this intervention typically leads to reduced yield. Researchers at the VIB-UGent now discovered a way to overcome this problem

EU decision process hinders use of genetically modified trees

24/02/2016 - This is the conclusion reached by researchers in a joint text drawn up as part of a European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) project about genetically modified trees.

Modifying the structure of wood alters plant microbiome

13/01/2016 - Wout Boerjan: The results are especially important in allowing the interaction between trees and bacteria to be utilised to obtain higher and more sustainable production of, in this case, poplar wood for bioenergy.

VIB-UGent poplar expert Wout Boerjan named world’s Forest Biotechnologist of the Year

15/01/2010 - Wout Boerjan was named Forest Biotechnologist of the Year. IFB is recognizing Boerjan’s work. The jury also gave special consideration to the field proof with genetically modified poplars.

VIB GM poplar field gets authorized after all

23/02/2009 - After an initial negative decision in May 2008, VIB recently received an authorisation to field test its genetically modified poplar trees in Belgium. VIB had appealed the negative decision at the Council of State, which suspended the refusal.

Council of State Suspends Refusal of VIB Poplar Field Trial

30/12/2008 - The Council of State has consigned the federal ministers Magnette and Onkelinx’ decision to refuse a permit for a field trial with genetically modified poplars to the wastepaper basket.

Flemish biotechnologists take field trial across border

08/12/2008 - The Netherlands Commission on Genetic Modification (COGEM) has issued a positive opinion on a field trial with genetically modified poplars from the Flemish research institute VIB.

VIB Poplar Research Gains International Recognition

24/09/2008 - VIB gains international recognition for its poplar research program thanks to a considerable financial injection of 1.6 million dollar from Stanford University, the world-renowned American research university.

VIB appeals denial of “poplar field test” approval to Council of State

25/07/2008 - The Flanders Institute for Biotechnology, VIB, submitted a request to the Council of State on July 23, 2008, to suspend and quash the decision of Ministers Magnette and Onkelinx denying its approval for a field test of genetically modified poplars.

VIB Field Trial Request Refused

27/05/2008 - VIB has responded in disbelief to the rejection by the federal government of its request to carry out a field trial with genetically modified poplars. The government has thus disregarded the authoritative judgement of the Biosafety Advisory Council.

Poplar DNA code cracked − new possibilities for sustainable energy

15/09/2006 - Scientists has succeeded in unraveling the first tree genome − that of the poplar. Moreover, their research indicates that the poplar has about 45,000 genes

Poplar DNA code cracked − a step in combating global warming?

21/09/2004 - An international consortium, including VIB researchers, has succeeded in deciphering the first tree genome, that of the poplar. That is an important step in the research to make trees grow more quickly, or to make them easier to process into paper.

Wout Boerjan

Wout Boerjan

Research area(s)

Model organism(s)


​Ph.D.: Univ. of Ghent, Ghent, Belgium, 1993
VIB Group leader since 1996
Associate Professor since 2003

Contact Info

VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems BiologyUGent-VIB Research Building FSVMTechnologiepark 71 9052 GENTRoute description