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Vici grants for four UG/UMCG scientists

29 February 2024

The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has awarded Vici grants, worth up to €1.5 million each, to Nathalie Katsonis, Edwin Otten and Alexandra Zhernakova. Professor of Coastal Ecology Tjisse van der Heide has also received a Vici grant for research he will conduct within NIOZ. This will enable the researchers to develop an innovative line of research and set up their own research group for five years.

Vici is one of the largest scientific grants for individuals in the Netherlands and targets advanced researchers. The funding instrument enables researchers to pursue research of their own choice. This gives innovative research a boost and encourages the promotion of talent at scientific research institutes.

A portret of Nathalie Katsonis
Nathalie Katsonis

Natalie Katsonis

The research for which Prof. Nathalie Katsonis (Faculty of Science and Engineering, Stratingh Institute for Chemistry) has been awarded a Vici grant concerns the origins of primitive cells in the first ocean. The origin of life on Earth stands as one of the great mysteries of science. Researchers have long concluded that the chemical reactions that allowed life to emerge took place in microscopic compartments, called protocells. However, it is still not known how these protocells were formed. With this grant, researchers will explore the possibility that protocells were made of lipids, formed by solar irradiation of a primordial oil layer that covered the ocean. The results of this research will also apply to an important contemporary issue: the mitigation of environmental damage by treatment and removal of polluting oil spills.

A portret of Edwin Otten
Edwin Otten

Edwin Otten

The grant awarded research project of Prof. Otten (Faculty of Science and Engineering, Stratingh Institute for Chemistry) investigates how to build better batteries with organic molecules. In this project the researchers will develop flow batteries based on abundant elements to replace the scarce metals that are currently used. Bipolar organic molecules will be developed as the charge-storage material for symmetrical batteries, in which the + and – pole have identical chemical composition. This results in increased lifetime and lower cost, and thus represents a major step towards more sustainable batteries for the efficient storage of renewable energy.

A portret of Alexandra Zhernakova
Alexandra Zhernakova

Alexandra Zhernakova

The grant awarded to Prof. Zhernakova (UMCG) is to look into early life immune-microbiome interactions in allergic diseases. Allergic diseases have multiple causes, most of which are unknown. In a large cohort of mothers and babies, the researchers will study the relationships between maternal and infant antibodies and their gut and oral microbiomes, their interactions with diet, genetics and environment, and how these factors together influence developing allergies in infants. Using advanced culturing and organ-on-a-chip experiments, the researchers will pinpoint specific immune-related microbes and metabolites and their impact on both the gut and immune system. The findings from this research will promote the development of microbiome-based therapy for allergies.

A portret of Tjisse van der Heide
Tjisse van der Heide

Tjisse van der Heide

Prof. Van der Heide (Faculty of Science and Engineering, Groningen institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences), Professor of Coastal Ecology, was also awarded a Vici grant. This research, from NIOZ, looks at the restoration of coastal ecosystems by temporarily mimicking the habitat-forming species. Coastal ecosystems shaped by habitat-forming species provide vital ecosystem services but are declining worldwide. Their restoration is failure-prone because ecosystem stability hinges on self-facilitation generated by ‘emergent traits’. Such traits emerge when habitat formers aggregate, causing self-facilitation to only work beyond certain minimum patch size and density thresholds. With this grant, a new framework that combines methods from ecology, industrial design, and engineering to design tailormade mimics will be tested.

Last modified:29 February 2024 11.36 a.m.
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