17 November 2016

Guido Van den Ackerveken new Professor of Translational Plant & Microbial Biology

Prof. Guido Van den Ackerveken’s goal is to build fundamental knowledge on plant diseases and bring it from the university into the field, with the help of green life science companies. “We study plants and pathogens to understand how diseases works; they apply it in real life.” Van den Ackerveken was appointed Professor of Translational Plant & Microbial Biology on 1 November 2016.

Prof. Van den Ackerveken has plenty of experience in the valorisation of his scientific work. He gained international renown with his research into plant diseases caused by oomycetes: fungi-like microorganisms, such as downy mildew pathogens, which are able to avoid crop immune systems. He deciphered the genetic foundations of plant susceptibility to these pathogens.

Patents

Based on the fundamental knowledge gained through his research, he developed a technology to grow crops that are resistant to downy mildew, called DMR technology. In 2007, he and his team were presented with a prestigious award for their work, the Leverhulme Technology Transfer Award. He also has two patents to his name. “The vegetable breeding company Enza Zaden aquired the patents and is now developing resistant vegetable crops without the need for a GMO approach. We work closely together with them, and hopefully within a few years seeds with our DMR technology will reach the market”, Van den Ackerveken explains.

More cooperation

The results of his research have also sparked several other partnerships and projects with vegetable breeding companies “I’ve noticed that companies are very open to contact, and are interested in new ideas for disease resistance. Cooperation with them provides us with quite a bit of knowledge from the field and materials that we can use in our fundamental research”, says Van den Ackerveken. “It’s a win-win situation.”

Societal relevance

Van den Ackerveken’s appointment is in line with Utrecht University’s philosophy of greater emphasis on the societal relevance and impact of its research. Professor Van den Ackerveken’s research, which falls under the focus area Future Food and the strategic theme Sustainability, is a real-life example of that.

Education

Prof. Van den Ackerveken plans on embedding the issue of societal impact deeper in the education provided to students and PhD candidates. Several courses already provide guest lectures by figures from the industry, and Van den Ackerveken organises networking events that attract large numbers of researchers and companies. “Many of the people who earned their PhD’s at our chair group now work in the Research and Development departments of plant breeding companies. I see the training of expert researchers as another important form of valorisation.”

Career

Van den Ackerveken studied in Wageningen, earning his PhD there in 1993. After working for several years in France and Germany as a postdoc, he came to the Biology Department at Utrecht University in 1999. In 2002, NWO awarded him a VIDI grant. His new chair position is part of the chair group Plant-Microbe Interactions at the Institute of Environmental Biology.