The Wageningen University & Research Executive Board has appointed Duur Aanen to a personal chair in Evolutionary Biology at the Laboratory of Genetics, led by Professor Bas Zwaan. The appointment already entered into effect on 1 May 2019. Professor Aanen studies and teaches fundamental questions in evolutionary biology, with a specialisation in the evolution of cooperation.
Duur Aanen (b. Hoornaar, 1971) studied Biology, thereby following his broad interest in nature from an early age. After graduating from Utrecht University, he carried out his PhD research in Wageningen. He studied speciation in a group of fungi that live in symbiosis with trees. After obtaining his PhD, he worked at the University of Copenhagen from 2000 to 2006, where he set up a research programme to study the evolution of the mutualistic symbiosis between termites and fungi. Once back in Wageningen, he received an NWO Vidi grant in 2007, which he used to continue his research into the evolution of fungus-growing termites. In 2015, he received a prestigious Vici grant to carry out research into the evolution of cooperation.
No cheaters in evolution
Duur Aanen carries out research into the fundamental question of how stable cooperation arises through evolutionary processes. Although cooperation between organisms may offer benefits, there are also risks, because partners could benefit without contributing. The question arises: which factors prevent the evolution of cheaters?
Professor Aanen uses fungi as a model system for this question. Individual fungi can accept other individuals and form a single colony with them but can also reject these individuals if they are not recognised as group-specific. An important research question is the genetic basis of this recognition and its evolutionary dynamics. In his research, Professor Aanen uses theoretical models, experimental evolution and genome analysis.
Biological and cultural evolution
In addition, Duur Aanen works together with social scientists to study the similarities and differences between biological and cultural evolution. He advocates the position of fundamental research at the university and actively promotes the acceptance of the theory of evolution in European secondary schools.
In 2018, together with theologian Gijsbert van den Brink (VU Amsterdam), he organised a Lorentz workshop to determine the relationship between the natural sciences and the philosophy of life. This workshop resulted in The Leiden Declaration on Evolution and Religion.