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.


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* These 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* These 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* These 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* These authors contributed equally
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

Job openings


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.

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.

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 927 9052 GENTRoute description