Biotech & Life Sciences

Plant Research International

Current collaborative opportunities include – flavonoid pathway engineering, production of genistein-rich plants; profiling, evaluation and production of flavors; insect and disease resistance in plant; and production of pharmaceutical and industrial proteins in plants

Plant Research International is one of the market-orientated research institutes within Wageningen University & Research Centre (Wageningen UR). It combines leading-edge scientific research with innovation and an acute eye for business. In addition, it offers next-generation facilities and technologies, plus a genuine global outlook.

Thanks to the combination of know-how and experience across the entire spectrum of plant research, Plant Research International offers unique new perspectives for governments and private companies for agriculture and horticulture, and for rural and environmental development.

Japan links include a co-operative research agreement signed between AFFRCS, MAFF and Wageningen UR in 2002.

From gene to plant and back: linking genomic information to plant function

The Bioscience Business Unit

Understanding plant organisation is achieved through a synergy of hypothesis-driven and discovery-driven research. The latter requires implementation of modern, high throughput platform technologies coupled to information management aimed at the integration of data from various fields of knowledge. We have invested strongly in such technology platforms to enable our scientists to gather comprehensive sets of data over the entire spectrum of cellular, biochemical and organism research.

The unit's research integrates the following fields of technologies:

  • Genomics
  • Transcriptomics
  • Proteomics
  • Metabolomics
  • Phenomics
  • Flow cytometry
  • Multiple imaging

These technologies are applied in fields including:

  • Biotic and abiotic stress physiology
  • Nutra- and pharmaceuticals
  • Pest and disease resistance
  • Industrial products
  • Human health
  • Plant breeding
  • Seed quality

Strategic initiatives in bioinformatics and systems biology provide the foundation for the comprehensive management, analysis and integration of all data. En route, from the genome to the phenotype knowledge is gathered on the genetic and molecular functions within the complete biological system. The reconstruction of functional networks allows an understanding and exploitation of the regulation, organisation, and molecular co-ordination involved in plant development, physiology and metabolic routes.

The integration of expertise in cell biology, molecular genetic, plant development, plant physiology, biochemistry and physics provides innovative perspectives for applications in industry, agriculture and society.

Clients and Collaborations

Dutch clients include the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment. Other clients are universities, research institutes, pharmaceutical companies and life science and plant breeding companies. Co-operations also exist with many international research institutions and globally renowned companies.

Genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics and phenomics
The group's main expertise lies in fundamental, strategic and applied research for the identity, structure and function of DNA, proteins and metabolites and on the quality of seeds, plants and plant derived products. Key elements here are increasing consumer demands and safety concerns, environmental issues, the development of sustainable agriculture, and world food supply. The research relies on up-to date facilities for whole genome sequencing (Greenomics®), DNA micro-array production and application, protein extraction, separation, detection and identification using MS/MS and MALDI and for metabolomics analysis of plant samples using HPLC-DAD-MS/MS.

Bioinformatics is a rapidly evolving discipline at the crossroad of biology, computer science and mathematics. Bioinformatic knowledge accompanies the shift in chosen approach in the life sciences from hypothesis-driven research to discovery-driven research. Bioinformatics deals with the management, analysis and integration of the wealth of data that is generated in the framework of this discovery-driven research. Building on their early lead in the field of plant bioinformatics, the group continue's to invest in computational infrastructure and research to support the high throughput data generation and analysis at Plant Research International.

Flavour and Fragrances
The biochemical diversity in plants relevant to flavour and fragrances is enormous. The biosynthesis of these compounds in plants such as strawberry, raspberry, citrus and tomato are under study. Results are used in breeding programs towards high quality crops as well as for development of flavour and fragrance production platforms.

Biosynthetic routes for plant protection
The protection of plants against pathogens and insects is often based on the presence or induction of compounds that are repellent or toxic to the attacking organisms, or which attract their enemies. The group explores the function of these compounds and their expression in plants and try to exploit these traits in collaboration with industrial partners.

Health promoting plants
Plants have always been used by mankind to promote health and cure diseases. The group works to unravel the biochemical basis of the traits of plants of interest to human health. This allows the identification of metabolic pathways and the exploitation of these plant traits, for instance by steering the production of flavonoids in food plants. Compounds like flavonoids form a large and diverse group of health promoting compounds that occur naturally in vegetables, fruits and the products derived from them. Similarly, the health promoting and curing properties of mushrooms and algae are under study. Enzymes and genes involved in the biosynthesis of above mentioned compounds are characterised and their usefulness in semi-chemical synthesis and in microbial expression systems is evaluated.

Vaccines, plantibodies and medicines
Plants have been identified as promising hosts for the production of commercially interesting pharmaceutical proteins. Bulk quantities can be produced at low cost and, importantly, plants do not transmit infectious particles such as viruses that could be harmful to humans. The group has the know-how to exploit plants as factories for oral vaccines, antibodies and other medicines. Collaboration with world-wide industrial players enhances the group's position in the field of human-like glycan biosynthesis in plants.

Allergy and Celiac disease
A clear increase in allergy has been documented, particularly in the west Europe. The group has developed expertise to identity and characterise the causative epitopes and the corresponding genes in plant species such as apple and strawberry. This knowledge is applied for developing hypoallergenic crops. Similarly, the group's extensive wheat collection is screened for varieties that can be developed into cultivars with good industrial properties, while still safe for celiac disease patients. These research programs are executed in consortium with medicinal- and food processing research organisations.

Gene regulatory networks
Functional genomics strategies are developed and used to unravel key genes regulating basic plant processes involved in protection against biotic and abiotic factors limiting plant production. Genetic strategies using natural variation, loss-of-function and novel gain-of-function insertional mutagenesis approaches in a number of model and important crop plants identify genes conferring valuable agricultural traits. The characterisation of genes regulating the expression of valuable traits offers insights into the genetic networks of the plant traits and employment for trait improvement in crop plants.

Plant development
Insight into plant developmental processes contributes to the development of new crops adapted to a wide variety of environmental conditions. The group develops molecular markers and other diagnostic tools for the rapid screening of plants for their capacity to adapt to biotic and abiotic stress. Novel genes that are key regulators for plant development are being identified and functionally characterised, which enables the well-directed alteration of plant architecture.

Seed production and quality
Novel breeding tools and modification of the plant life cycle will accelerate the breeding process and the development of alternatives for current production methods. Research on apomixis, juvenility (flowering), reproductive mechanisms, seed development and germination are the key topics here. Fundamental knowledge on seed development can be applied to produce more nutritious seeds.
Healthy and vigorous propagation material is essential for crop productivity. Research is performed on markers for seed quality and stress tolerance. Epidemiological research reveals critical control points for minimising the transmission of seed borne pathogens and alternative methods are developed to eliminate pathogens on the seeds. This is an important aspect in the optimisation of seed production for organic agriculture.
Since reproductive organs of plants are the most important source of our food, nutritional value is also studied and exploited. The group is part of the Wageningen Seed Centre, a collaboration of teams involved in the research and education on seed related issues.

The MIPS facility: a breakthrough in experimental plant sciences
For both organic and conventional farming, high-quality plant material is essential for good crop yield and quality. The group's research focuses on developing and using non-invasive techniques for plant quality analysis for which the Multiple Image Plant Stress facility has been developed. MIPS allows automated, long running and detailed measurements on large groups of plants. This robotised facility produces images of plants and plant organs using different light spectra. These images are used to detect and study biotic and abiotic stress in plants.

The GreenFlow facility for high throughput analysis of cells, cell organelles and molecules
The group's flow cytometry facility offers the possibility for the individual analysis of cells, cell organelles and other microscopic particles with a rate up to 80.000 particles per second. Equipped with a high-throughput sorter, it is possible to perform sorting of populations, under sterile conditions if required, for cloning, culturing or further studies. The group has experience in areas such as the analysis of algae, bacteria, fungi, yeast, nuclei, mitochondria, cell cycle activity, protein-protein interactions; selection of antibody producing cells; and for SNP detection. The GreenFlow facility acts as Centre of Expertise for applications in the areas of agro-food and genomics research for one of the world leading flow cytometer manufacturers.

Bio-Nanotechnology and Microsystems technology
The efficient characterisation of gene function is one of the key priorities in the post genomic era. The group is involved in efforts to develop in vitro techniques to go from gene to analysed enzyme product in a highly parallel set up with very short turnover times. Bio-nanotechnology and micro-systems technologies are crucial in that respect. Knowledge of the potential function of a novel compound for food or health is crucial in determining its societal and economic value. Bio-nanotechnology offers possibilities to discover function of compounds at an early stage using highly parallel biosensors for a range of relevant biological receptors.

ImpactVector: providing the research community with innovative tools
ImpactVector is an initiative to provide the research community with optimized research materials such as plant expression vectors. ImpactVector presently offers a product line of 10 vectors all based on the very strong, light-regulated Rubisco promoter. They provide the researcher with a set of targeting and tagging tools for which there is no equivalent in the market. The ImpactVector 1-series performs 8 times better than the CaMV35S promoter with expression levels of more than 7% of total soluble protein.

Plant Research International is currently offering specific opportunities relating to flavonoid pathway engineering, production of genistein-rich plants and profiling, evaluation and production of flavors.

For additional details please go to the PRI homepage or contact us.