Seven young Wageningen scientists have received Veni grants from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). This is a form of financing for talented scientists who recently received their PhDs. The scientists Marjon de Vos and Bob Douma are two of them. What research will they do with their grants?
Resistance to antibiotics
“Thanks to the Veni grant, I can study the effects of interactions between bacteria on the evolution of antibiotic resistance,” says Marjon de Vos, who is based at the department for genetics. “This is linked to my current research. I am studying small groups of bacteria isolated from people with urinary tract infections. These patients are treated with antibiotics, but the bacteria that caused the infection appear to become more and more resistant to them. With the Veni research I am going to see whether the interaction between bacteria also contributes to the development of this resistance. This focus is new: most studies of resistance to antibiotics focus on a single bacterium and not the interaction between different types of bacteria. Via this project, I hope to take a first step towards a better understanding of the effect of these interactions on resistance to antibiotics.”
Incentive for female scientists“I'm delighted that I was granted a Veni for my research proposal. Firstly, this is an important study: in Europe alone, 25,000 people die each year from infections rendered untreatable due to resistance to antibiotics. Secondly, I see it as an incentive for female scientists. Men still define the image in natural sciences, especially at the higher levels. I feel that the time is ripe for change.”
Volatile components and plant interaction
“I will explore how herbivore-induced plant volatiles affect the interaction between plants,” says Bob Douma of the Crop and Weed Ecology chair. “When a caterpillar feeds on a plant, this plants emits gaseous compounds. These volatile compounds subsequently attract enemies of the caterpillar, such as parasitic wasps. The emission of these compounds is coined “calling for help”. Furthermore, it has been shown that neighbouring plants also pick up these signals, which can cause them to set their defence to standby. I will investigate whether neighbouring plants also change their growth patterns in response to these compounds. The idea is that a plant trades-off investments in growth versus investments in defence. The plant might also use accelerated growth itself as a defence strategy, so it can accelerate its flowering and seed set. Accelerated flowering usually means lower seed production, but at least the production is secured in time.”
More sustainable crops“I love doing this kind of fundamental research. It’s like solving an intriguing puzzle. Ultimately, this research may contribute to the development of more sustainable crops. Some researchers have suggested to develop varieties with an increased production of volatile components. The idea is that these varieties are better able to attract natural enemies, allowing less pesticides to be used. However, it is important to explore if there are no adverse effects of enhanced volatile emission on neighbouring plants. If it appears that they accelerate flowering and seed set this may lead to unwanted and unnecessary yield losses.”
Veni grants are one of the three forms of financing which the NWO annually makes available to individual scientists. The Veni programme is intended for promising young scientists, the Vidi is aimed at scientists who already have some years of work at postdoctoral level, and the Vici is intended for highly experienced scientists.