After graduating from UGent in 2007, I decided to pursue a PhD in Bioinformatics at (UGent/PSB-VIB) and combine my Biotechnology degree with my interest for Computer engineering. At the time, the first few plant genomes became available and we decided to leverage these to study genome evolution though comparative genomics. This also sparked the development of PLAZA, an on-line comparative genomics platform, where gene families, phylogenetic trees, … are available through a user-friendly interface.
Upon completing my PhD in 2012, I accepted a PostDoc position at the Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology (in Potsdam, Germany). Here, I shifted from solely using genomic data to integrating transcriptomics data to predict gene function. Thousands publicly available RNA‑Seq experiments were used to construct co-expression networks and integrated into CoNekT (Co‑expression Network Toolkit). This provides domain experts, without the need for extensive bioinformatics training, tools to pinpoint potential genes involved in processes of their interest.
Returning to Belgium and rejoining the VIB in 2018 allowed me to take techniques developed in the context of those previous projects and apply them on a third type of –omic data, metagenomics. While superficially similar to transcriptomics data, the rich metadata collected for samples adds extra complexity to the analysis. Furthermore, shifting fields was also a deliberate step towards more applied research. For instance detecting bacteria that can promote a soil’s nutritional status can be tested and could lead to products in relatively short timeframes.