1. Plants for human and animal health
Plants produce compounds that are beneficiary for our health. That is known for thousands of years. We investigate the mode of action of these compounds on humans and animals. The focus is on polymeric sugars that stimulate the immune system. Other compounds that have similar effects are also under scrutiny. The effects are first tested using in vitro methods based on cell culture. Whenever possible we also test the compounds in vivo.
Plants can also be used to produce biopharmaceutical proteins using biotechnological approaches. Thus, proteins are produced that have a positive effect on the immune system. The rationale behind the plant as a production platform for therapeutical proteins is the fact that plants are cheap, effective and safe production hosts. _____________________________________________________________________________________________
2. Evolution and biocontrol potential of nematophagous fungi and bacteria
Bacteria, fungi and nematodes live together, mainly in soils, already for millions of years. No surprise, this cohabitation resulted in the evolution of every thinkable kind of trophic interaction (- one group serving as food for the other). Nematode-eating fungi and bacteria are not rare, and especially fungi have developed various kinds of trapping devices to catch nematodes. Of course it would be attractive if we could use these organisms to specifically control plant pathogenic nematodes. Nevertheless, attempts to control plant pathogenic nematodes with fungi and bacteria often failed. A better understanding of the biology of nematophagous fungi and bacteria will be a key towards the use of these organisms in conventional and organic farming.
3. Nematode communities as soil health thermometers.
In principle physical, chemical and biological indicators can all be used to estimate the condition of a soil. Biological indicators have a substantial advantage as they are integrative: they reflect the overall impact of physical and chemical changes in a soil. A practical, indigenous bio-indicator system should be ecologically relevant, easy to handle, time- and cost-efficient, and give unequivocal results. Unfortunately, no such a system is yet available. The nematode community is generally accepted to be highly indicative of soil health. The phylum Nematoda includes many species and is trophically heterogeneous. To date, nematodes are under-exploited as bio-indicators because of their conserved morphology (≈ they all look more or less the same). Currently we are developing a DNA-based barcoding system to analyze nematode communities. In this framework, you could contribute to the development of this bio-thermometer for soil health.
4. Welcome to the world of mutants: my name is C. elegans
The nematode (small worm) Caenorhabditis elegans has become a model for animal life science studies. To study the function of genes and their interactions thousands of mutants exist which can be used to explore the genetics of ageing, complex behaviour or pathways involved in cancer development. Within this subject you will learn to understand what types of mutations exists, how they can be generated, and how they can be studied. We will use C. elegans as a model to study the general aspects of mutational mapping and their implication for understanding basic biological processes. Also we will discuss their limitations with regard to biological phenomena in natural populations.
5. Nematode: the smart parasites of plants and animalsIt is estimated that 25% of the nematode species in the world thrive on other organisms (plants and animals) as parasites. The parasitic worms clearly out-smart the hosting organism for instance by modifying host cells into feeding structures, or by suppressing defense responses. A parasitic worm can live and reproduce inside a host for a long time, even up to several years. The key question addressed in this research is what the molecular mechanisms are that underlie these persistent host-parasite interactions. We also want to know the evolutionary histories of these molecular mechanisms, to see if plant-parasitism and animal parasitism have common grounds.
6. Disease resistance to pathogens and parasites
Plants live with the continuous threat of all kinds of pathogens and parasites. Fortunately, these encounters with pathogens and parasites rarely develop into disease in a plant because of all kinds of sophisticated defense mechanisms. These defense mechanisms are being exploited in crops by plant breeders using marker assisted breeding and genetic engineering. The objective of this research is to identify (with map based cloning) and characterize disease resistance genes to study their working mechanisms towards parasites. Disease resistance genes have unique recognition specificities, which means that they only act on parasites they recognize. We also want to know the evolution of recognition specificities in disease resistance genes.