Press release

Ten young researchers from Wageningen awarded Veni grants

Published on
July 30, 2015

Ten talented young researchers will be able to carry out a three-year research project at Wageningen University. Each of them has received a grant of up to a quarter of a million Euros from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). They submitted the proposals for the Veni grants themselves.

The research proposals honoured with a grant are:


Neeltje Boogert (f) – Animal Sciences – Stress teaches you who your friends are (In stress leert men zijn vrienden kennen)

Like humans, animals differ in the number of social contacts they maintain and the intensity of their ‘friendships’. Can early experiences predict network positions in later life? The researcher will expose chicks to competition and food scarcity, and measure how these stress factors affect the subsequent social life of the birds. This research will help us understand social animal behaviour.

Wouter Kohlen (m) – Laboratory of Molecular Biology – Understanding symbiotic nitrogen fixing (Het doorgronden van symbiotische stikstofbinding)
Signal substances of symbiotic nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria induce cell division in the roots of certain plants. Remarkably, this process is prompted activating a signalling network present in all plants. The researcher wants to find out why these soil bacteria induce cell division in the roots of some plants and not in others.

Madelon Lohbeck (f) – Tropical forests in multifunctional landscapes (Tropisch bos in multifunctionele landschappen)
Tropical forests mainly occur in landscapes that have been transformed by humankind. Madelon will travel to a dynamic forest-agricultural area in South Mexico to study the environmental and living conditions and the type of land use needed to sustain this forestland, which helps to protect biodiversity and support local farmers.

Marnix Medema (m) - Bioinformatics Group – Valuable chemical heritage in plant genes (Waardevol chemisch erfgoed uit de genen van planten)
Plants produce all kinds of valuable substances, some of which are used as medicines, insecticides and additives for foods. Plants’ ability to produce these substances is determined by their genes. The researchers will try to devise smart computer algorithms to analyse these genes and the way they interact, in order to develop new, more efficient products.

Michael Seidl (m) – Laboratory of Phytopathology –The impact of chromatin modification on the aggressiveness of plant pathogens (Hoe chromatinemodificaties de agressiviteit van veroorzakers van plantenziekten bepalen)
Hereditary traits are not only determined by genes (the sequence of DNA), but also epigenetically, through reversible modifications of the DNA. Plant pathogens change their hereditary traits quickly to avoid recognition by the host. The researcher wants to discover how epigenetic changes to the DNA of plant pathogens affect their level of aggression.

Eveline Snelders (f) – Resistant fungi (Resistente schimmels)
Aspergillus fumigatus is the main cause of invasive aspergillosis in patients with a weak immune system. Strains of anti-fungal-resistant Aspergillus are on the increase. Mortality among these patients is more than 90%. My research will explore the factors causing this resistance.

Emilie Wientjes (f) – Laboratory of Biophysics – Squeezing light into nanometric gaps: A live view of protein diffusion in the photosynthetic membrane
Plants generate energy from light, but the colour and intensity of light varies greatly throughout the day. Thanks to evolution, plants have developed mechanisms that enable them to flourish under these fluctuating conditions. The researchers want to study these mechanisms with molecular precision by developing an advanced microscopic technique.

Benny Guralnik (m) - Some like it hot
Although temperature is an important regulator in a number of natural processes, it is difficult to make a retrospective reconstruction of temperature progression. Benny Guralnik will use luminescence and inert gas technology to try to reconstruct the temperature history of archaeological fire sites to learn more about how the use of fire has developed through the course of history.

Jose Lozano Torres (m) – Plant Sciences - The PERKs of being resistant? On the exploitation of a novel source of nematode resistance in vegetable crops
Specific resistances commonly used in vegetable farming are losing their effect on plant-parasitic nematodes. As a result, the plant breeding sector is being forced to develop base materials using alternative forms of resistances. This is, as yet, uncharted territory. This project explores the use of basic immune reactions to counter microscopic damage to plant tissue caused by invasive nematodes.

Erik Wijnker (m) – Plant Sciences - Controlling recombination: New strategies for reverse breeding
New species of plants are created by crossing plants and selecting specimens with new combinations of traits from the offspring. This research is a targeted attempt to find new, fast, efficient ways to control the largely random process of inheriting traits in order to further optimise plant breeding practices.

Some researchers conduct their research at a knowledge institute other than the one from which they submitted their proposal for a Veni grant. This is the case with Martijn Hammers, a researcher from Wageningen, who will carry out research entitled: How does ageing affect social behaviour and vice versa? (Hoe beïnvloeden veroudering en sociaal gedrag elkaar? at the University of Groningen. Parents of young animals who receive help from other family members do not need to invest as much in parenthood. Martijn Hammers will study a population of wild animals to find out whether this form of assistance delays the ageing process in the parents. He will devise mathematical models to predict the effect of ageing on social behaviour.