Wim Grunewald from the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology will give a lecture on Tuesday 13th October at the Faculty of Agrobiology, Food and Natural Resources. His home institution is considered to be the most important biotechnology research institution in the world. The LSFF 2015 will show the film from The Theory of Everything TV series about its charismatic founder Marc van Montagu. We have asked Wim what he thinks about the work of his boss and about Europe’s attitude to the issue of genetically engineered plants.



Can you explain to us what your area of research at VIB is?

I have worked as a researcher for 10 years in various fields of molecular plant biology. During the past 3 years I worked as scientific advisor in the area of plant biotechnology at VIB headquarters. Since October I moved to the tech transfer unit of VIB.


Theory of Everything, which will be screened at the LSFF, shows the fascinating person of Marc van Montague. Is his influence still perceptible at VIB today? Do you know him personally and how much does he participate on scientific work today?

Marc is highly respected and appreciated within VIB. He is still around on a daily basis and interacts with PhD students, post-docs and group leaders. He is mainly a source of inspiration.


Science at VIB is one thing; politics which enables or thwarts implementation of invented technologies into practice is another. Do the two areas mix in a scientist’s head? Do you sometimes say to yourself during research: “What is it good for when they won’t allow us to implement a modified plant anyway?”

In the first place VIB is a basic research institute and the scientists are particularly interested to unravel the molecular pathways that underlie all kinds of biological processes. But indeed, next to the basic science VIB wants to translate research findings into products for society. Concerning plant research it is a pity that Europe doesn’t realise the opportunities of for example genetically modified crops. However, the knowledge gathered at the plant department of VIB can also be used in traditional breeding and we are not depending on the introduction of GM crops. Moreover other parts of the world do embrace GM technology. Our scientists are mainly worried about the negative perception on plant biotechnology and the long-term consequences of the anti-technology position of Europe but they still are highly motivated to do breakthrough plant science.


On Tuesday 13th October at the Faculty of Agrobiology, Food and Natural Resources you will lecture on the topic of “Plant Research in VIB”. Can you tell us what the lecture is going to concentrate on?

Besides explaining the role of VIB in Belgium and Europe and illustrating the research lines within the VIB plant department, I will show why plant biotechnology in agriculture is a major asset for farmers, the environment and the consumer. I will also give insights in why people are intuitively hesitant when it comes to the use of GM crops.


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