Int. J. Dev. Biol. 57: 453 - 460 (2013)
doi: 10.1387/ijdb.130295ga
© UPV/EHU Press

From the tumor-inducing principle to plant biotechnology and its importance for society

Geert Angenon1*, Mieke Van Lijsebettens2,3 and Marc Van Montagu2,3,4

1Institute for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, 2Department of Plant Systems Biology, VIB, Gent, 3Department of Plant Biotechnology and Bioinformatics, Ghent University, Gent and 4Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach (IPBO), Gent, Belgium

ABSTRACT This dialogue was held between the Guest Editors of the Special Issue on “Plant Transgenesis” of the Int. J. Dev. Biol. and Marc Van Montagu. Research in the group of Marc Van Montagu and Jeff Schell in the 1970s was essential to reveal how the phytopathogenic bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens transfers DNA to host plants to cause crown gall disease. Knowledge of the molecular mechanism underlying gene transfer, subsequently led to the development of plant transgene technology, an indispensable tool in fundamental plant research and plant improvement. In the early 1980s, Marc Van Montagu founded a start-up company, Plant Genetic Systems, which successfully developed insect-resistant plants, herbicide-tolerant plants and a hybrid seed production system based on nuclear male sterility. Even before the first transgenic plant had been produced, Marc Van Montagu realized that the less developed countries might benefit most from plant biotechnology and throughout his subsequent career, this remained a focus of his efforts. After becoming emeritus professor, he founded the Institute of Plant Biotechnology Outreach (IPBO), which aims to raise awareness of the major role that plant biotechnology can play in sustainable agricultural systems, especially in less developed countries. Marc Van Montagu has been honored with many prizes and awards, the most recent being the prestigious World Food Prize 2013. In this paper, we look to the past and present of plant biotechnology and to the promises this technology holds for the future, on the basis of the personal perspective of Marc Van Montagu.

Keywords:

Agrobacterium tumefaciens, crown gall, genetically modified plants, plant genetic engineering, Ti plasmid, World Food Prize

*Corresponding author e-mail: Geert.Angenon@vub.ac.be