RESEARCH GROUPS 2017

Participating research organisations:

  • Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, One Health Group, Utrecht University

One planet, one health: The One Health concept recognizes that the health of humans is connected to the health of animals and the environment in response to a series of major and emerging challenges to human, animal and environmental health. There are many examples that show how human health is related to animal health and the environment. For instance, some (infectious) diseases can be shared between animals and people. Some diseases emerge in animal populations, for instance because of changes in land use and urbanization, and eventually spill over to human populations. In some cases, vector ecology changes, leading to changes in human and animal (including wildlife) disease patterns. Antimicrobial resistant strains can circulate and be exchanged between human, animal and environmental reservoirs. Animal reservoirs involved are wild animals, livestock production animals, but in some cases also companion animals. Moreover, animals can share our susceptibility to certain diseases and environmental hazards. Because of this, they can serve as sentinels for potential human hazard. Human animal contact is also associated with exchange of (non-pathogenic) micro-organisms and microbial toxins.

Contact: Wietske Dohmen, Roosmarijn Luiken – W.Dohmen@uu.nl, R.E.C.Luiken@uu.nl
 

  • Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Public Health Group, Utrecht University

Are humans nocturnal? In the current 24/7 society many humans work, live, and recreate in the night. What are the consequences of this behavior on human health is one of the research areas of the public health group at IRAS. For example, long-term occupation in a profession requiring night-shift work has been reported to increase the risk of adverse human health effects. Although it is well known that night-shift work disrupts lifestyle and circadian rhythm, the biological mechanism through which adverse health effects primarily occur remains largely unknown. One aspect complicating studying the potential health effects of night-shift work is its complex mixture of dimensions which independently or combined can have an effect on human health. We are trying to accurately measure the different night-shift work dimensions and are linking these measurements to measurements of early biological perturbations and intermediate health outcomes as to understand which aspects of night work are most detrimental to health.

Contact: Daniella van de Langenberg – D.vandeLangenberg@uu.nl
 

  • Regenerative Medicine -
    TUe

Living tissues show an intriguing, active response to changes in their environment. Not only is the intrinsic mechanism complicated, the ability of living tissues to adapt to these changes by altering their structure and composition is fascinating. For example, the aorta will become thicker to be able to withstand the increasing blood pressure when one gets older; however, a malfunction adaptation mechanism can lead to aneurysm formation. Therefore, understanding the continuous growth and remodelling processes that take place inside our body is of crucial importance for many biomedical applications.
Our research focuses on unraveling these processes and apply the knowledge gained to create our own living tissues: tissue engineering. Using this approach, we aim to replace diseased tissues, such as heart valves and arteries, with living prostheses that can last for a life-time.

Contact: Pim Oomen – p.j.a.oomen@tue.nl
 

  • Animal Ecology -
    VU Amsterdam University

Animals communicate to improve their reproductive success. To achieve this ultimate goal they have evolved an impressive array of signals, ranging from sweet perfumes, to musical songs, elaborate dances, and colorful costumes. Successful communication depends however not only on an animal’s signal, but also on the surrounding environment. In our sensory ecology lab at the VU we explore how animals adapt their signals to deal with changes to the environment, in particular when caused by human activities.

Contact: Wouter Halfwerk – w.h.halfwerk@vu.nl
 

  • Institute for Environmental Studies -
    Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Plastics are the triumphant materials of our technoexuberant age, but what are all the unintended consequences of this stuff? We study the plastic debris we find in the oceans – and pretty much everywhere else we look too: for instance, canals, food, cosmetics, wastewater, soil and air. This debris can fragment into a persistent, fine plastic dust environmental scientists call micro- and nanoplastics. What damage does plastic pollution do to the environment, to us and to society, and what can we do about it? We work in the field and our laboratory, where we develop methods and assess plastic pollution and the plastic additive molecules inside. We trace how toxic additives travel via products to the plastic waste streams of our consumer society. We use the quantitative data we collect from the natural world to investigate the impact of plastic pollution from ecological, public health as well as economic perspectives. Our research is showing that plastic pollution prevention makes both economic and ecological sense. Our team also evaluates the developments in the governance realm, as the world struggles to manage the problem. We lead and collaborate in interdisciplinary groups since complex problems like this demand complex teams. Because this environmental topic is very political, technical and societal all at the same time, we find ourselves working at the interface of science and policy, industry and civil society.

Contact: Dr. Heather Leslie – heather.leslie@vu.nl
 

  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry & Generation R -
    Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam

We study child development in a large birth cohort: Generation R (“R” for Rotterdam). Nearly 10,000 children born between 2002-2005 have been followed since foetal life with multiple assessments of growth, behaviour, cognition, parent-child interaction, and social development. Research focusses on the importance of prenatal factors such as exposure to non-optimal fatty acid, thyroid or folate levels during pregnancy, the importance of parenting or family routine, the importance of genetic vulnerability and that of neurodevelopment. Generation R comprises the largest data set of pre-adolescent brain imaging and we have recently shown that emotional problems shape the change of brain connectivity over time. Ongoing research in Generation R also investigates the relevance of sleep patterns, eating behaviour and bullying for adolescent well-being.

Contact: Henning Tiemeier, Erasmus MC. – h.tiemeier@erasmusmc.nl
 

  • Institute of Environmental Biology – Utrecht University

The Institute of Environmental Biology of Utrecht University focusses on future food and the circular economy. The microbiology group for instance works on the use of fungi to detoxify polluted water and solids and to produce food and materials from waste streams.

Contact: Prof. Han Wösten – Utrecht University – h.a.b.wosten@uu.nl
 

  • Plant Physiology – Wageningen University and Research Centre

We study how light and temperature adjust the function of the biological clock in plants. This research has its application in greenhouses where the growth of plants is controlled through alternative light/temperature regimes i.s.o. using chemicals. We monitor the effect on the plant clock in two ways: (1) we have acquired a collection of ‘glowing’ reporter plants (containing a firefly gene) in which the activity of plant-clock genes can be filmed. (2) Clock regulated growth also causes leaf movement and with the ‘flapping’ of leaves we can indirectly see the effect of light/temperature on the plant clock. As in humans, the plant clock causes daily fluctuations inside the plant. This results (for instance) in daily fluctuations in growth, in resistance to stresses and in daily fluctuations in production of medicinal compounds in plants. Sometimes, plants that experience a ‘jetlag’ perform better!

Contact: Dr. Sander van der Krol – sander.vanderkrol@wur.nl
 

  • Building with Nature -
    Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research (NIOZ)

Ongoing accelerated sea-level rise, increased storm frequency and altered sediment dynamics, threaten coastlines and estuarine ecosystems around the globe, imposing the need for new, cost effective defense schemes. At the same time, many coastal ecosystems are currently threatened and declining, imposing the need for nature conservation and restoration of coastal ecosystems. Restoration or creation of coastal ecosystems offers promising opportunities for building cost-effective coastal defense schemes that enhance nature goals. It is however unclear to which extent nature and defense goals are compatible or opposing. We aim to unravel i) how to use intertidal ecosystems for coastal defense schemes, ii) how to maximize nature goals and iii) how to integrate both aspects. We study this for coastal vegetation, reef building species (mussels and oysters), and other tidal flat benthic communities. Our studies integrate different scales, by combining both the local-scale (i.e., within an ecosystem) and the landscape-scale (i.e., the connectivity between ecosystems and ecosystem compartments). We aim at developing fundamental insights in the physical and biological drivers and interactions that can be widely applied.

Contact: dr. Brenda Walles – brenda.walles@nioz.nl
 

  • Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Scientists at Naturalis aim to describe, understand and explore biodiversity, for human well-being and the future of our planet. It houses the 5th largest natural history collection in the world with 37 million objects.
Katja Peijnenburg’s research focuses on marine zooplankton, the animals at the basis of marine food chains, and aims to elucidate their responses to past, present and future environmental change. Currently, the oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb rising levels of CO2 from the atmosphere at geologically unprecedented rates. One group of zooplankton that she is particularly interested in are planktonic snails, which include members with shells (also known as ‘sea butterflies’ or ‘sea elephants’) and without shells (also known as ‘sea angels’). These are beautiful organisms to look at and wonderful examples of adaptation to a new environment: the foot has been modified into ‘wings’ that are used to swim through the water column. However, because of their highly soluble shells these animals are now threatened by ocean acidification. Katja’s research focuses on studying their evolutionary history and potential to adapt to current changes in our ocean.

Contact: Dr. Katja Peijnenburg – Katja.Peijnenburg@naturalis.nl
 

  • NIOO – soil memory & soil transplantation

Netherlands Institute of Ecology, NIOO, is the largest institute of the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences (KNAW): Soils house an overwhelming abundance and diversity of living (micro)organisms. These microorganisms greatly influence the plants that grow in the soil, and even the aboveground insect communities that are associated to the plant. Interestingly, the microorganisms, in turn, are highly sensitive to which plant grows in the soil. This all leads to fascinating feedback loops between plants and soil communities. A caterpillar eating from a plant can already cause changes in the local community of soil microbes, influencing the plants growing in that soil in following years and even the insects that feed on them. We sometimes refer to this as voicemail messages left in the soil for next generations, with the plants acting as phones.
In our research programme we study the feedbacks between soil microbial communities, plants and insect communities. In particular we study how you can alter and manage these soil communities. For example via ‘soil transplantation’, to restore degraded natural grass and heathland ecosystems or to improve the resistance of agricultural crops to insect pests without the need for chemical pesticides.

Contact: Prof. Martijn Bezemer – m.bezemer@nioo.knaw.nl
 

  • Molecular Epidemiology Group -
    Leiden University Medical Centre

Why do some people survive into their nineties and can still ride their bikes, while others age much faster in poor health? Research on ageing at molecular epidemiology links clinical studies to biobanking and biology. We aim to understand the mechanisms determining the rate of ageing, the increasing susceptibility to disease that goes along with it and, alternatively, the factors that promote healthy ageing.

We make observations in families in which many people live very long. What biological bonus do they get as a result of having the healthy ageing promoting genes. Which genes and mechanisms contribute to healthy ageing and do these overlap with those identified in animal models across evolutionary distinct species. And if you are married into a longevity family, how can your health be improved so that you can grow old together with your spouse? What do we observe in blood and muscle of elderly people that start living more healthy. We combine observational studies in human cohorts with intervention studies and studies into the tissues and cells of humans to unravel the biology of human ageing.

We do not only investigate healthy and happy ageing, but also the problems arising during the ageing process. For example the diabetes in populations exposed to adverse conditions early in life (such as in The Dutch Hungerwinter cohort) and families displaying osteoarthritis in middle age (the GARP study). In collaboration with a diversity of dutch biobanks we integrate studies across the lifespan to observe how health profiles change and to understand mechanisms by which the genome determines the rate of ageing from adults to elderly and from patients to long-lived individuals. We integrate data using state-of–the–art technologies.

Read more: www.molepi.nl or read www.healthy-ageing.nl
Contact: prof.dr. Eline Slagboom – p.slagboom@lumc.nl