Dirk Inzé graduated in 1979 in Zoology at the Ghent University and in 1984 he received his Ph.D. in Zoology from the same university with a thesis on the mechanisms by which grobacterium tumefaciens causes the proliferation of plant cells. In 1990, he was appointed Research Director of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) at the Ghent Joint Laboratory, where he initiated extensive research programs on the cell cycle and cell death in plants. In 1995, he became Professor at the Ghent University. In 1998, he founded the biotechnology company CropDesign, currently one of the most active players in high-throughput analysis of yield related genes in cereals. In 2006 CropDesign was acquired by BASF. In 2006, Dirk Inzé founded Solucel, a biotech company dealing with the production of pharmaceuticals in plants. In 1999, he was appointed Deputy Scientific Director of the Department of Plant Systems Biology of the VIB and he became Director of the Department in July 2002.
In 1994, Professor Inzé was laureate of the Körber Stiftung Prize and in 2003 he became EMBO member. In 2005 he was laureate of the Francqui Prize and became elected member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts. He has served on numerous scientific committees and science advisory boards. Currently he is the vice chairman of the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO).
Prof. Inzé's research focuses on the understanding of the basic cel cycle machinery in plants and on the mechanism of orchestrating plant growth. Prof. Inzé is member of the editorial or advisory boards of Journal of Experimental Botany, Plant Physiology, The Plant Journal, Plant Cell Physiology and EMBO Journal. According to a recent ISI survey, he is one of the most cited and influential researchers in his field.
Boosting sustainable cropproductivity
The global demand for plant-derived products such as feed and food is increasing dramatically, as illustrated by the recent doubling of the price of most commodity crops. Unfortunally, the poorest people on earth will be the first victims of this food shortage and, recently, the United Nations has estimated that currently 37 countries struggle with afood crisis. Why do food prices rise so quickly?The first obvious factor is the still exponentionally growing world population. It is hard to fathom, but in the coming decades three billion additional people will have to be fed while less arable land is utilized. Furthermore, the standard of living is anticipated to continue to go up in many developing countries where consumption of animal products is burgeoning, in turn necessitating a larger input of plant-derived feed because, on average, the production of one kilogram of meat requires 4 to 8 kilograms of cereals. The high energy prices also make food production more expensive. Last but not least, plants also start to play a major role in supplying the ever-increasing energy needs. Indeed, the next generation of bio-energy crops might provide a sustainable, CO2-neutral solution. Needless to say that efficient utilization of bio-energy crops has to be fully compatible and non-competitive with agriculture for food and feed productionand hasto preservetheearth's most precious ecosystems.
How can we deal with these exponentially growing demands for food, feed and bio-energy? How can we cope withthe fact that we will have to produce more food on less arableland, under environmentallymorechallenging conditions?
There is an obvious and urgent need to further increase crop productivity. Whereas in the sixties the so-called ‘green revolution’, based on the use of new crop varieties and the efficient application of agrochemicals, immensely contributed to increased plant productivity, biotechnological innovations are expected to enhance the ability of plants to capture light energy and to convert it into useful products for mankind. One major area for biotechnological improvement is boosting up intrinsic crop yield in a sustainable manner with a minimuminput of water, fertilizers, and agrochemicals.
As yield is the most important trait for breeding, a considerable amount of (eco)physiological research has been conducted on yield performance of crops. In contrast, surprisingly little is known about the molecular networks underpinning crop yield, partly because of its multifactorial nature in which many physiological processes, such as photosynthesis, water and mineral uptake, mobilization of starch and lipid reserves, and stress tolerance determinetheresources availabletonewcells,tissues, and organs of themost vital crops.
However, by using model plants, such as Arabidopsis thaliana (thalecress) and Oryza sativa (rice), scientists world-wide start to unravel the mechanisms that control plant growth and productivity under both optimal and environmentally less favorable conditions, such as drought. Plant growth and stress tolerance are complex processes, but novel approaches collectively called “systems biology” allow us to better understand this complexity. I will discuss how this rapidly growing know-how is now being applied for crop enhancement by scientists from the academic and industrial world. Already now, many key genes affecting crop yield and stress tolerance have been identified and spectacular increases in plant productivity have been obtained by using geneticengineering. Inviewof what is ahead, it isof utmost importancethattheworldadoptsthistechnologyand that theseimproved plant varieties are deliveredtothepoorest on earth.