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.

Publications

Improved saccharification and ethanol yield from field-grown transgenic poplar deficient in cinnamoyl-CoA reductaseVan Acker R, Leplé J, Aerts D, Storme V, Goeminne G, Ivens B, Légée F, Lapierre C, Piens K, Van Montagu M, Santoro N, Foster C, Ralph J, Soetaert W, Pilate G, Boerjan WPROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 111, 845-50, 2014
Systematic Structural Characterization of Metabolites in Arabidopsis via Candidate Substrate-Product Pair NetworksMorreel K, Saeys Y, Dima O, Lu F, Van de Peer Y, Vanholme R, Ralph J, Vanholme B, Boerjan WPLANT CELL, 26, 929-45, 2014
Phenylcoumaran Benzylic Ether Reductase Prevents Accumulation of Compounds Formed under Oxidative Conditions in Poplar XylemNiculaes C, Morreel K, Kim H, Lu F, Mckee L, Ivens B, Haustraete J, Vanholme B, Rycke R, Hertzberg M, Fromm J, Bulone V, Polle A, Ralph J, Boerjan WPLANT CELL, 26, 3775-91, 2014
Caffeoyl shikimate esterase (CSE) is an enzyme in the lignin biosynthetic pathway in ArabidopsisVanholme R* Cesarino I* Rataj K* Xiao Y* Sundin L Goeminne G Kim H Cross J Morreel K Araujo P Welsh L Haustraete J Mcclellan C Vanholme B Ralph J Simpson G Halpin C* Boerjan W*SCIENCE, 341, 1103-6, 2013* These authors contributed equally
Breeding with rare defective alleles (BRDA): a natural Populus nigra HCT mutant with modified lignin as a case studyVanholme B, Cesarino I, Goeminne G, Kim H, Marroni F, Van Acker R, Vanholme R, Morreel K, Ivens B, Pinosio S, Morgante M, Ralph J, Bastien C, Boerjan WNEW PHYTOLOGIST, 198, 765-76, 2013

News

Field trial with lignin modified poplars shows potential for bio-based economy, but also that work still needs to be done

30/12/2013 - The results of a field trial with genetically modified poplar trees in Zwijnaarde, Belgium, shows that the wood of lignin modified poplar trees can be converted into sugars in a more efficient way.

New possibilities for efficient biofuel production

15/08/2013 - An international collaboration of plant scientists identified a new gene in the biosynthetic pathway of lignin, a major component of plant secondary cell walls that limits the conversion of biomass to energy.

VIB applies for second poplar field trial

01/02/2013 - VIB has asked the federal government for a license to perform a second field trial with genetically modified poplars.

Initial field test results GM poplars: bioethanol yield almost doubled

19/05/2011 - The yield of bio-ethanol from the wood of GM poplar trees from a VIB field trial is up to 81% higher than non-modified poplars VIB-UGent researcher Wout Boerjan presented these results at the international conference "Bioenergy Trees in Nancy, France.

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.

Minister Ceysens plants first transgene poplar in Flanders

06/05/2009 - This afternoon, Flanders’ Minister of Economy, Enterprise, Science, Innovation and Foreign Trade, Patricia Ceysens, planted the first genetically modified poplar in Flanders.

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)

Bio

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

Contact Info

VIB Department of Plant Systems BiologyUGentUGent-VIB Research Building FSVMTechnologiepark 927 9052 GENTRoute description