Auditorium De Lieve
Form of presentation:
POG Opening Lecture:
Lessons learned from plant evolution
Em. Prof. Marc Van Montagu | VIB-UGent International Plant Biotechnology Outreach | Belgium
Our understanding of the living world is quite recent. Advances in science and technology during the 20th century show that life is a unit that has changed our planet's environment and transformed its own history in the process. The rise of photosynthetic cyanobacteria extended between 2.9 and 3.4 billion years ago, a slow start long before the great oxygenation event that metamorphosed the Earth. The incorporation of a cyanobacterium by a heterotrophic host was a pivotal horizontal genome transfer event that sustained many ecosystems on our planet. Paradoxically photosynthesis produces reactive oxygen species that are harmful to the host cell. Plants are equipped with complex and multilevel antioxidative system that maintain a redox equilibrium and allows quick adaption to a wide array of stressors, making them the most evolutionarily successful living organisms on earth.
But plants cannot thrive alone; they co-evolve with the microbial world. About 30% of plant’s energy is directed to the root zone to attract and feed surrounding soil microorganisms which, in return, make nutrients bioavailable for plants, produce chemicals to stimulate plant growth, and protect them from pathogens.
Notwithstanding the finetuned survival circuit of natural ecosystems, the plants we need to keep feeding human population while preserving the environment are nowhere to be found. Nature makes plants to survive and thrive, not to excel in productivity. Advances in plant science have enabled new tools for breeding, as well as genetic engineering, editing and synthetic biology. Technically we are ready to make new plants that will meet our needs. But science alone will not be enough for the transformative changes needed to achieve environmental, nutritional, and economic sustainability of human societies. Technological progress always triggers reactions from society, and it is essential to pay attention to how these reactions can influence the acceptance of an innovative product.