Prof. dr. ir. Willy Verstraete

Telephone number: 
0475/971307
Position: 
Faculty staff
Biography: 

W. VERSTRAETE was born on April 25, 1946 in Beernem (Belgium). He graduated in 1968 from the GentUniversity as bio-engineer. He followed a summer course on Soil Microbiology at the Pasteur Institute of Paris. In 1971, he obtained a Ph D degree in the field of microbiology at the CornellUniversity, Ithaca (USA).

Since 1971, he worked at the GentUniversity, first as assistant and since 1979 as professor and head of the Laboratory of Microbial Ecology and Technology (LabMET - Faculty of Bioscience Engineering). Since October 2011, he has become emeritus professor.

His R&D has as central theme: Microbial Resource Management ; ie the design, operation and control of processes mediated by mixed microbial  cultures. W. Verstraete has field experience with respect to drinking water production plants (slow sand filtration), aerobic wastewater treatment (in particular with respect to nitrification-denitrification), anaerobic digestion of wastewaters and sludges, solid state fermentation of organic residues and bioremediation processes of soils and sediments. He has also gained experience in various aspects of pre- and probiotics used in human and animal nutrition and in systems which simulate the latter .

W. Verstraete was co-chairman of the Working Party on Environmental Biotechnology of the European Federation for Biotechnology (EFB) (1989 -1993) and was General-Secretary of the European Environmental Research Organization (EERO) (1991-1997). He was a member of the OECD Workgroup on Environmental Biotechnology (1990-1998). In 1993, he was elected to the Fellowship of the International Institute of Biotechnology. In 1991, 1997 and 2004 he co-chaired the International Symposium on Environmental Biotechnology of the EFB at Ostend (B). In 1994 he chaired the International Symposium on Anaerobic Digestion of the International Water Association (IWA) at Cape Town (SA). In 2001, he was for the second time chairman of this international event, this time organised in Antwerp. From  2006 to 2014 , he was  a member of the Editorial Board of the journal Microbial Biotechnology (co-chaired by Prof. K. Timmis and J. L. Ramos).

For the period 2008-2012, he was general secretary  of the European Research Council (ERC) in the domain of Life Sciences. From 2008-2013 , he was  a member of the Industrial Research Fund of the Ghent University. In the period 2010-2015, he was  chairman of the Ghent University Multiple Research Partnership ‘Biotechnology for a sustainable economy‘. In 2012 ,he  was actively involved in  coordinating a  joint venture between the Universities of Leuven and Ghent in the context of preparing a Knowledge and Innovation Community ( KIC ) in the domain of  Critical Raw Materials . He was vice- president , president and past-president of the Royal Society of Flemish Engineers (Koninklijke Vlaamse Ingenieursvereniging; KVIV) for the period 1995-2001.He was chairman of the Belgian branch of the IWA (2000-2005) and of the Centre of Environmental Studies of the GhentUniversity (2000-2005). W. Verstraete was for the period 2000-2010 appointed member of the Technical Commission for Soil Protection of the Netherlands. He was 4 years a member of the Flemish Council for Scientific Innovation  (VRWI). He is since 2004 member of the scientific council of the Belgian food industry (FEVIA). He has served 12 years in total as a member of the Belgian Science Council ( FWO /FNRS ) . 

W. Verstraete has been instrumental in the creation of several successful spin-offs , both in Belgium and abroad in the field of applied microbial ecology (environmental technology; health; food and feed). He currently is active member of the board of  3 of these companies .

W. Verstraete  served in various international review panels. Some examples are: the DELFT-Cluster and SENSE research schools in the Netherlands, the EPFL environmental study centre in Lausanne Switzerland, the Helmholtz research institute Leipzig Germany ,  the Environmental Biotechnology Cooperative Research Centre in Brisbane Australia and the Danish GEUS  Institute on water and climate change .

Numerous master and doctoral students of W Verstraete have received national and international prizes for their scientific achievements.

  • He received in 1975 the national Intermediair prize for a review article entitled “Environmental hygiene from a microbial-ecological perspective”, Belgium.
  • In 1976, he received from the Comité of the International Association for Water Quality (IAWQ) the prize for the design of a treatment plant dealing with concentrated wastewaters.
  • In 1982, he received the prize of the Technological Institute of the Royal Society of Flemish Engineers for his work in the field of anaerobic digestion.
  • In 1997, he was awarded the Francqui chair at the University of Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium;the theme of the chair was 'New concepts in Environmental Biotechnology' .
  • In 1999, he received the Altran prize (France) for his research about nitrogen removal technologies in wastewaters.
  • In 2000, he was nominated member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Belgium.He has set up and has  been chairman of the  Committee for  science communication of the Academy  . He currently coordinates an international  Thinkers programme within the Academy on Water and Climate Change Resilience .
  • Since 2000 , he has an appointment as Honorary Professor in the Advanced Wastewater Management Centre of the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.
  • In 2005, he was chosen by an international jury to receive  the highest scientific prize in his country i.e. the prestigious   Excellence in Science Prize  , awarded by the    National Science Foundation  FWO .
  • In 2006, he was awarded at the Beijing World Congress by the International Water Association (IWA) the Imhoff Award for his contribution in the domain of water biotreatment.
  • In 2007 he received the 'Excellence in Review ' award for the expertise in delivered to the scientific journal ' Environmental Science and Technology'.
  • In 2008, he was awarded the Francqui chair at the Faculté Universitaire des Sciences Agronomiques de Gembloux (Belgium); the theme of the chair was “Progress in Microbiology”..
  • In 2009, he received from the Chinese Academy of Applied Sciences at Shenyang the “Einstein Professorship” for his achievements in the domain of environmental sciences.
  • In 2013 , he received the career award of the Belgian IWA for his contributions to the field of water  science and technology .
  • In 2013 , he became member of the scientific board of the  Singapore Centre on Environmental and Life Science Engineering ( SCELSE ) of the Nanyang Technological  University  (NTU ) of Singapore .
  • In 2014 , he became chairman of the Cluster on Resource Recovery  , of  the International  Water Association ,Den Haag .
  • In 2015 , he became  nominated as   advisor of  the Dutch Water Institute KWR , to deal with the aspects of water and cyclic economy .He coordinates the Amsterdam project Power to Protein . 
  • Since  2014 , he ranks in the list of Highly Cited Researchers , due to the fact that several of his papers  belong to the top 1% most cited papers of his field . The whole of his scientific work totals at a h-index of 80 . The sum of his  cited papers is about 30 000  (May 2015).
  • In  april  2016 , Willy Verstraete was elected chairman  of the board of the Science Foundation  FWO  of Flanders , Belgium .
  • In september  2016 , he received from the  International Water Association (IWA )  and  the International Society for Microbial Ecology (ISME ) , cooperating in  MEWE  ( Microbial Ecology and Water Engineering ), the Ardern and Lockett Award for his contributions in the fields of water engineering and microbial ecology .
  • In october 2016  , Nature Microbiology published  a new  archaeal phylum  Verstraetearchaeota, recognizing the contributions of our team at the Ghent University to the development of engineered microbial ecosystems.

For further information, Willy.Verstraete@UGent.be