Applied Molecular Genetics

The research in the group of Prof. Lieve Gheysen is focused on the one hand on the molecular analysis of the interactions between plants and pests/pathogens and on the other hand on biotechnology applications and science communication. Special attention is given to development cooperation and capacity building.

The molecular and cellular analysis of plant-nematode interactions

Rice (Oryza sativa) is a good host for several parasitic nematodes with very different life styles. Rice is therefore an interesting crop plant to compare how these microscopic animals do this and how the plant reacts to this.

Our main study object is the rice root knot nematode Meloidogyne graminicola, that causes galls on the roots. Especially if rice is grown with less water than in the typical paddy fields, yield losses can be substantial.

Another project studies the tomato-rootknot nematode interaction.

Rootknot nematodes enter the plant roots, carefully migrate in between the cells and establish several giant cells in the vascular tissue. With initiation of this feeding site, the nematodes become sedentary and lose their muscles. They develop into females that lay hundreds of eggs. During the infection process, nematodes secrete many different proteins, called effectors, into the host plant to enable a successful interaction.

Pink stained female nematode with egg mass in plant root
Pink stained female nematode with egg mass in plant root

Our research tries to answer the following questions:

    • how can the nematodes suppress the plant immune response?
    • how do they induce a feeding site in the plant root?
    • what is the role of plant hormones during nematode infection?
    • which treatments can enhance the plant immune response?
    • what is the mechanism of resistance to rootknot nematodes in some rice cultivars?

Plant biotechnology applications, biosafety regulations and science communication

Besides plant-nematode interactions, other plant-pathogen or -pest interactions are also research topics, and genetic engineering (GMO technology) is being used as a tool to enhance plant resistance to these biotic stresses.

GMO technology is intimately linked with discussions on ethics, biosafety, or socio-economic impacts.

Lieve Gheysen is also part of the IPBO-team


Plant-parasitic nematodes, gene cloning, transformation, molecular analysis of transgenic plants, gene expression analyses, gmo regulations and gmo discussions


Contact information

Please contact professor Godelieve Gheysen for more information.