Wageningen University & Research: Seven Vidi grants for Wageningen scientists

Why are some plants able to absorb large amounts of selenium? Do government agencies and public bodies deliver on their promises from the climate policy? What secrets do the suction cups on cuttlefish reveal? These are a few of the seven Wageningen research questions that have been awarded with a Vidi grant by the Dutch Research Council (NWO).

Seven research associates from Wageningen University & Research (WUR) will each receive a sum of €800,000 from the NWO. With this funding, they can develop their own innovative research line and set up a research group.

Experienced research associates
The Wageningen laureates who submitted these research questions are experienced and have successfully conducted research before, which is why they qualified for this Vidi grant. Together with the Veni and Vici grants, Vidi is part of the NWO Talent Programme (previously: the innovation incentive). In the Talent programme, researchers are free to submit their own project for funding. They will spend the money in their field over the next five years.

NWO selects research associates based on their qualities, the innovative nature of their research, the expected academic impact of their research proposal, and the opportunities for the application of knowledge.

A total of 101 experienced research associates from Dutch universities received a Vidi grant from NWO. These are all of the Wageningen research associates:

High ambitions, slow implementation? Monitoring and evaluating climate adaptation in a politically sensitive environment
Dr G.R. Biesbroek

Adaptation to the consequences of climate change is inevitable. This is why government agencies and public bodies across the world are formulating ambitious objectives. How do we know whether government agencies and public bodies actually do what they promise? How do we know when to adjust, and by how much? The monitoring and evaluation of climate adaptation are crucial, but barely get off the ground in practice. This project examines the political-administrative mechanisms that make the development and implementation of climate adaptation evaluation so difficult and creates politically sensitive solutions to break through these barriers.

Over the limit: smart air circulation strategies for improved light and energy efficiency in controlled-environment agriculture
Dr SRM Vialet-Chabrand

A well-growing crop consumes so much CO2 that the low rate of CO2 diffusion in the surrounding layer of stagnant air can limit photosynthesis when compared to the use of the leaves. Until now, CO2 dosing in the greenhouse was the main solution for increasing the availability of CO2 for photosynthesis. However, to achieve a CO2-neutral greenhouse by 2040, a different approach is required. More fundamental knowledge about how forced air circulation within the foliage of a crop can ensure high and uniform CO2 levels in the plant will pave the way for improved photosynthesis and enable high crop yields with less CO2 dosing.

Unlocking the secrets of cuttlefish suction cups
Dr G.J. Amador

In less than one-tenth of a second, a cuttlefish uses its soft and strong tentacles with many small suction cups to attach itself to its prey. By studying how these animals quickly and flexibly attach to different objects and surfaces, research associates are contributing to the understanding of their evolution and are learning how to develop better synthetic grippers for applications in soft-surface robots and agriculture.

Living at the limit: unravelling the secrets of selenium hyperaccumulator plants
Dr A. van der Ent

Some plant species can absorb exceptionally high concentrations of selenium, but the mechanism behind this fascinating natural phenomenon is largely unknown. The aim of this research is to describe and understand the ecology, physiology, and molecular biology of selenium hyperaccumulation as a model for recent plant adaptation to a highly selective environment. This information can be used in the future to improve selenium levels in crops to address selenium deficiency in humans.

Switching between human and mosquito: mechanisms behind the transmission and evolution of viruses
Dr J.J. Fros

Mosquito-borne viruses replicate differently in humans and mosquitoes. These viruses have developed genetic characteristics that are optimal for replication in vertebrate hosts, but suboptimal for replication in mosquitoes. This project sheds light on the molecular mechanisms in mosquitoes that control replication of the relatively poorly adapted viruses. The findings will expand our knowledge of virus evolution and immunity of invertebrates to viruses. This may lead to host-specific manipulation of virus replication and new ways to block the transmission of mosquito-borne viruses.

How can oxygen decode the atmospheric CO2 signal?
Dr I.T. Luijkx

The climate is changing due to increasing amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere. This research will use measurements of oxygen to better understand which part of the measured CO2 signals in north-western Europe comes from fossil fuel combustion and which one comes from the biosphere. This will provide important new information needed to determine how much the temperature will rise in the future, which is highly relevant during the energy transition related to achieving the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

A computer-controlled treasure hunt in plant chemistry
Dr M.H. Medema

Plants produce a wide variety of valuable substances that they use to defend themselves against pathogens and herbivores and to recruit useful micro-organisms. These substances are an important source of medicines and crop protection agents. The ability to produce them is stored in specific sets of genes. By designing clever computer algorithms, the research associates aim to map out these kinds of genes and their interrelationships, to discover new biosynthetic pathways, to find out which molecules are produced by them, and to analyse how they arise and change during the evolution of plant species.