The global demand for plant-derived products such as feed and food is increasing dramatically, as illustrated by the recent doubling of the price of most commodity crops. Unfortunately, the poorest people on earth will be the first victims of this food shortage. The first obvious factor for food prices to rise quickly is the still exponentially growing world population. It is hard to fathom, but in the coming decades three billion additional people will have to be fed while less arable land is utilized. Furthermore, the standard of living is anticipated to continue to go up in many developing countries where consumption of animal products is burgeoning, in turn necessitating a larger input of plant-derived feed. The high energy prices also make food production more expensive. Last but not least, plants also start to play a major role in supplying the ever-increasing energy needs. Indeed, the next generation of bio-energy crops might provide a sustainable, CO2-neutral solution. Needless to say that efficient utilization of bio-energy crops has to be fully compatible and non-competitive with agriculture for food and feed production and has to preserve the earth's most precious ecosystems.
Therefore, high-throughput ‘omics’ data and systems biology approaches are being applied to discover and prioritize important targets in certain biological processes or pathways that could improve yield in plants or make plants more resistant to all sorts of biotic and abiotic stress. Another important area that could greatly benefit from systems biology approaches is plant biotechnology, an industry that is already very successful in Flanders.