Belgium: VIB and ILVO jointly obtain regional funding to establish the ‘EMPHASIS-Belgium’ consortium as national node of EMPHASIS

Representation of the expertise and knowledge fields of both VIB and ILVO that will be combined in the national node of EMPHASIS

With the ambition of “phenotyping future crops”, a new consortium - EMPHASIS-Belgium - has been established as the Belgian node of EMPHASIS and has recently been granted funding from Research Foundation Flanders (FWO). It combines globally leading expertise, from lab to field, in both basic plant research at the VIB (Flanders Institute for Biotechnology) Center for Plant Systems Biology (PSB), led by Prof. Dr. Dirk Inzé, and applied crop research at ILVO (Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) Plant Sciences unit, led by Prof. Dr. Isabel Roldán-Ruiz.

Continued improvements in crop performance are needed to cope with climate change and to keep pace with population growth. To tackle these global challenges, novel approaches are required to identify superior crop varieties and to explain the genetics of agriculturally important traits. Synergies between (Belgian) phenotyping installations, coordination of phenotyping initiatives and training, and access to state-of-the-art phenotyping platforms and data are needed to drive world-leading plant and agricultural sciences.

The EMPHASIS-Belgium consortium has received funding of Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) within the International Research Infrastructure (IRI) programme, a high-level funding programme for large-scale international investments and linked with the Flanders Department of Economy, Science and Innovation (EWI). This will enable EMPHASIS-Belgium to play a pivotal role to facilitate multiple services such as access to its state-of-the-art controlled condition and highly equipped field phenotyping facilities, data and modelling tools and innovation, to the benefit the Flemish, Belgian and European plant phenotyping community (i.e. plant phenotyping institutes and companies).  The national node will (i) coordinate the consortium and further development of EMPHASIS-Belgium and integrate the Belgian phenotyping community – Belgian Plant Phenotyping Network (BPPN) - in international initiatives of EMPHASIS; (ii) ensure communication and interaction between project partners; (iii) facilitate services of the national node, including networking; (iv) ensure access to specific platforms and data of field (ILVO) and controlled condition phenomics (VIB).

Within the consortium, VIB Center for Plant System Biology (PSB), will take the lead. VIB is one of the world’s best performing plant research centres and has extensive expertise in plant phenotyping. The centre owns multiple state-of-the-art, automated and high-throughput, controlled conditions plant phenotyping installations, and heavily invested in the development of data management software for phenotyping infrastructure called PIPPA (PSB Interface for Plant Phenotype Analysis). PIPPA is a central user interface and database for experimental setups in plant phenotyping installations and (meta)data analysis, and will be linked to the EMPHASIS data layer, ones established, to enable open access to its data. Within EMPHASIS-Belgium, VIB will provide access to multiple platforms for controlled environment phenotyping, including an exchangeable sensor portfolio that will provide high levels of flexibility to meet the scientific requirements for a broad range of users.

The ILVO-Plant Sciences (ILVO, performs research from agricultural soil to product. ILVO focusses on sustainable plant production with special focus on soil management while reducing nutrient losses and increasing soil organic carbon, and the yield and quality of the primary product. ILVO has more than 80 years of proven records in plant breeding, with extensive expertise on biotic and abiotic stress research and has built significant experience related to field phenotyping in the context of breeding and crop management. ILVO develops tools for close remote sensing using different sensors mounted on UAVs for a broad range of crops, and has experience in gathering and analysing phenotypic data in high spatio-temporal resolution of large trials. Up till now, phenotyping activities under field conditions focused on above-ground plant parts, but in this consortium ILVO will develop a fully operational field-scale automated phenotyping infrastructure enabling the monitoring of root function and entire canopy behaviour at high spatio-temporal resolution, coupled with abilities to impose drought. Combining below- and aboveground sensing techniques will allow the establishment of a ‘systems approach’ to the dynamics of plant adaptation to the future climate under (real) field conditions.

For further information: Merlijn Morisse (