From plant diseases to sustainable crops

Onderzoek naar planten

Johanna Westerdijk was the founder of research into plant diseases at Utrecht University. 100 years later, the relevance of research into plant diseases in Utrecht has not changed. As the immune systems of plants continue to be charted, solutions for sustainable cultivation of food crops are coming within reach.

Sick trees

Westerdijk researched multiple plant diseases, but her research into elm disease is the most well-known. For this disease, she proved that the fungus Ceratocystis ulmi causes the tree to die. The origin of this Dutch discovery can still be found in the English name for this elm disease: “Dutch elm disease”.

Sustainable crops

Several generations after Westerdijk, Professor Corné Pieterse leads research into plant diseases in Utrecht. His group Plant-Microbe Interactions studies the immune systems plants use to protect themselves from diseases and infestations. For instance, the researchers discovered a mechanism that enables plants to get help from benign micro-organisms in the soil. These micro-organisms bring the plant in a higher state of alert, offering protection from pathogenic bacteria and fungi in the process. This knowledge makes it possible to protect crops from diseases and infestations in a sustainable way in the future.

Future Food Utrecht

In het onderzoeksthema Future Food Utrecht werkt de Universiteit Utrecht aan nieuwe oplossingen voor een duurzame, gezonde, acceptabele en toegankelijke voedselvoorziening voor de wereldbevolking. In Future Food Utrecht werken plantbiologen, celbiologen, farmaceutisch onderzoekers, sociale wetenschappers, stadsgeografen, medisch en diergeneeskundig onderzoekers, ethici en economen samen. In the research theme Future Food Utrecht, Utrecht University works on new solutions to feed the world population in a sustainable, healthy, acceptable and accessible way. In Future Food Utrecht, plant biologists, cell biologists, pharmaceutical researchers, social scientists, urban geographers, medical and veterinary-medicine researchers, ethicists and economists work together.

Johanna Westerdijk

On 10 February 2017, it will be 100 years ago that Johanna Westerdijk held her inaugural address at Utrecht University as the first female professor in the Netherlands. She was a Professor of Phytopathology (Plant Pathology) as well as the Director of the CBS-KNAW Fungal Biodiversity Centre.