Science - October 11, 2012

Renowned biologist starts in Wageningen

Ben Scheres moved with most of his research group. 'Plant research concentrating in Wageningen.'

Ben Scheres
It had been announced earlier but it happened in September: development biologist Ben Scheres moved from Utrecht to Wageningen. After twenty years as professor at Utrecht, the renowned Ben Scheres, who has many top publications on the development of plants to his name, is ready for a change. 'I could have moved to the United States, for example, but I don't like the frenetic American research culture.' He enquired with rector Martin Kropff as to whether there might be a chair for him at Wageningen University.
The move to Wageningen is an obvious step, says Scheres. 'The current trend is for Dutch Biology faculties to specialize. Plant research is being concentrated in Wageningen. With Utrecht heading towards biomedical research, my research will be relegated to the periphery there.' Moreover, Scheres wants a shift of focus in his work. 'I have worked a lot with animal development biologists in the past few years because of the progress they were making in stem cell discoveries. I now see a lot of development in the plant world.' Among those Scheres intends to work with are Bisseling, cell biologist Marcel Janson, geneticist Gerco Angenent and plant physiologist Harro Bouwmeester. 'Being right in the middle of the plant sciences will enable me to share my ideas more easily within a bigger whole.'
Arabidopsis
Wageningen is familiar ground for the 52-year-old Scheres because he studied here and his PhD research was supervised by molecular biologist Ton Bisseling. They are now neighbours in Radix. 'Ton will retire in a few years' time and there are plans to merge the groups then.' Scheres has brought along a group of twenty researchers to Wageningen: four permanent and 16 temporary.
Like his new neighbours, Scheres is doing a lot of research into the model plant Arabidopsis in order to understand the architecture of plants. Is this model crop still necessary now that the DNA sequences of useful crops have been charted? 'Arabidopsis remains necessary conceptually for an understanding of how the networks of genes, proteins and metabolites work in plants. The actual information about the functions of genes, the system biology, cannot be derived from loads of genetic data, so you need models for this.' Although his research is purely fundamental, Scheres is curious to see whether breeding companies will be interested in working with him.
His chair group does not yet have a name. 'We will probably call ourselves Plant Development Biology, but discussions are still going on. I hope to get this name soon so that I can get our website in the air.' Does the new group like the Wageningen campus? 'My colleagues are full of praise for the Chinese food in the Forum canteen; we don't have that in Utrecht.'

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