The ENVIRONMENTAL BIOLOGY group is the pioneer of the research theme “Understanding influences of the environment on organisms”. The effect of different environmental stressors is studied on a wide range of organisms, from microbes to plants and humans; the research is organized per biological model.
The research on mycorrhiza concentrates on the impact of heavy metal stress on communities and populations of ectomycorrhizae, soil symbiotic fungi that largely contribute to the fitness of plants. The ecophysiology of heavy metal stress in evolutionary adapted species (Suillus spp.), including their functional genetics and genomics are investigated.
The study of plant-microbe interactions focuses on the basic aspects of plant-microbe interactions, the effects of environmental stresses (pollution, nanoparticles, drought, ...) on soil and plant-associated microbial communities and how these communities can contribute to assist their host-plants to cope with different types of biotic and abiotic stress.
The main focus of the plant oxidative stress research (metal, herbicides, radionuclides/nuclear irradiation) is on responses at different biological organisation levels on oxidative stress. As oxidative stress is an important factor in the balance between cellular damage versus signalling, it is an important regulator in plant adaptation towards environmental challenges, which is translated into plant yield and quality at crop level.
The environmental epidemiology research integrates environmental influences and molecular mechanisms of health and disease with health outcomes early in life via longitudinal cohorts and cross-sectional studies. The group coordinates the largest recruiting birth cohort in Belgium (ENVIRONAGE).
A final pillar of the group is climate change impact on plant and soil diversity. The group uses the Field Research Centre at the National Park Hoge Kempen and the Ecotron facilities, climate-controlled units for the measurement of complex ecological processes and dynamics.