Studentenverhaal

Student Niels Zondervan - MSc Bioinformatics

Niels Zondervan prefers to have his own research project in which he can work independently. "I love to solve problems for which creativity is needed. Besides that, I like to go into depth in order to thoroughly understand a process. And that was exactly what I had to do for a previous master thesis at the Fungal Genetics group. In this thesis, I became acquainted with bioinformatics for the first time and I realized immediately I wanted to continue in this study field."

Processing enormous amounts of information is a great strength and only a few people have the skills to do it

Study

Niels Zondervan's good experiences with bioinformatics during his thesis were not the only reason for Niels to do the master Bioinformatics. "Currently, we really live in the age of information. Processing enormous amounts of information is a great strength and only a few people have the skills to do it." Niels specialised in systems biology, in which he is occupied with modeling biological systems and networks. "So before a model can be made, firstly, the biological system or network needs to be understood to the smallest detail. So systems biology is not only about programming, but it is more about interpreting data and answering biological questions often by using models." However, besides having the urge to understand everything to the smallest detail, another characteristic is also common in the average Bioinformatics student according to Niels: "Bioinformatics comes from laziness: a lazy bioinformatician is a good bioinformatician. Due to this laziness, one learns to handle data more and more efficiently by thinking carefully before doing any work. Besides that, data can be analysed in much less time by programming or using more efficient software tools!"

Thesis

"For my master thesis, I investigated how several virulent systems together make Tuberculosis the most successful infection disease in the world. More than one third of the world population carries Tuberculosis and each year 1.6 million people die as a results of Tuberculosis. I have read approximately 200 articles in order to come to an overview, which illustrates the amount of work and knowledge needed to map a biological system partly." Niels already worked with a mathematical model of someone else which represented the iron transport between Tuberculose bacteria and white blood cells for his previous master thesis. "This model was very complicated but not visual, which made it hard to understand and made the model seemed not to be very useful. That is the reason why my current thesis focuses on the visualization of biological system. A picture tells more than a thousand words or mathematical equations, so I have summarized all knowledge and compiled it in a well-structured visual model. In the first instance, the precursor of this picture was already in the discussion of my previous master thesis. Later on, I decided in consultation with my supervisors to make a separate thesis about it, because there was too much to tell." The integration of knowledge in a visual representation provides new insights. "For instance, there can be identified why some medicines are or are not effective in certain phases of the disease and which effects certain mutations can have on the effectiveness of particular medicines." Niels hopes to publish two articles with his acquired knowledge. “But with one publication I am already very content!”

Plans for the future

After his master Bioinformatics, Niels probably continues with a PhD, like half of the Bioinformatics students do. "After the master Bioinformatics you know a lot, but there is so much more to learn. So in this way I can continue studying and enjoy the student life a bit longer."