Wageningen plant researcher René Geurts has been awarded a Vici grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). He will use the grant, which is worth € 1.5 million, for research into the origins of the cooperation between plants and bacteria that are able to fixate nitrogen from the atmosphere. René Geurts works at the Laboratory for Molecular Biology of Wageningen University.
Molecular biologist René Geurts will try to discover why some species of plants are able to cooperate with nitrogen-fixing rhizobium bacteria, while others are not. This kind of symbiosis enables the plant to grow without nitrogen fertilisers. The most common example of rhizobium symbiosis is seen in the legume family, which includes beans, peas and soya. A similar symbiosis is seen in tropical Parasponia trees belonging to the cannabis family. In evolutionary terms, Parasponia and legume plants acquired this symbiosis independently of each other. However, Parasponia plants developed it much more recently than plants in the legume family. Geurts will use Parasponia in his study to try to identify the essential genetic changes that allow a plant to accomplish symbiotic nitrogen fixation with rhizobium bacteria.The NWO awarded Vici grants of € 1.5 million to 31 leading scientists in the Netherlands, enabling them to spend the next five years expanding their research groups. This means that a total of around € 46 million has been invested in scientific research. Vici grants are among the largest personal scientific grants awarded in the Netherlands.