author: prof. Harro Bouwmeester
Harnessing the second genome of plants. Microbial imprinting for crop resilience (MiCRop)
NWO Gravitation grant
Prof. Harro Bouwmeester took the initiative to create a consortium to write a Gravitation project on the interaction and communication of plants with their root microbiome, based on his work on rhizosphere signaling started at WUR. This work got boosted through his interaction with Prof. Age Smilde and his group in SILS on large scale data analysis and integration, after his arrival at UVA. The consortium assembled by Harro as coordinator consists of scientists from a range of other Dutch universities or research institutes: Toby Kiers (VU), Jos Raaijmakers (NIOO), Marcel Dicke (WUR), Christa Testerink (WUR) and Corné Pieterse (UU). The writing process was very well supported by the UVA-IXA valorisation office and the UVA project bureau. The team managed to secure 20 M€ funding for 10 years of research on the potential of the (root) microbiome to improve sustainability of agriculture worldwide. The MiCRop team hopes to achieve this through a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying changes in the microbiome under a number of stresses, and how these changes result in protection against these stresses (such as phosphorus deficiency, see Figure). Hereto, MiCRop investigates how 100 wild- and cultivated plant species, from five agriculturally important plant families distributed across the plant kingdom, recruit their microbial partners to cope with abiotic- and biotic stress.
MiCRop aims to unlock the mechanisms of the plant-microbiome interaction, which will provide a firm basis for knowledge translation that is needed to harness these beneficial microbiome functions to optimise future crop resilience and performance in a changing climate. MiCRop has over 20 partners from the green life science industry in the Netherlands and abroad, and teamed up with 10 CGIAR institutes around the globe to ensure dissemination and use of our knowledge also in the Developing world. MiCRop will train, coach and educate 6 tenure trackers, 4 postdocs and 25 PhD students, has an ambitious visiting scientist program and will thus serve as a top-level training centre for young professionals for which academia and industry are in high demand.
Human Brain Project (HBP)
author: prof. Cyriel Pennartz
The Human Brain Project is a 10-year long FET Flagship project of the EU, involving more than 500 researchers spread out across 123 institutions in 16 countries (2013-2023). The Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience (CSN) group at SILS joined the HBP in 2015 by way of an Open Call (main applicant: C. Pennartz, also involving U. Olcese, C. Bosman, J. Mejias, P. Marchesi a.o.). Soon thereafter, C. Pennartz was elected as leader of the SP3 pillar of HBP (Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience) and joined the Science and Infrastructure Board (SIB) of HBP, the main scientific governing body (director: Prof. dr. K. Amunts, Juelich Germany). In that capacity, he led a group of 17 PIs distributed across 4 Open Call-awarded projects in the areas of Sleep, Consciousness, Episodic memory and Visual Perception. Because of HBP’s support for coordination and management, the CSN group was also able to engage in community-building in the Netherlands, bringing together interested groups with other Dutch members of HBP as well as partnering projects. Membership of the SIB continues until the end of the HBP project in fall’ 23.
CSN research, sponsored by HBP with 1,84 MEuro (2015-2023), has focussed on (i) international collaborations with multidisciplinary teams working on multisensory integration, computational predictive-coding models of visual perception, neural measures and theory of consciousness, and memory-perceptual interactions in animals and robots ; (ii) the co-design and usage of the digital research facilities created by HBP and later transferred into Ebrains, particularly data curation, data analysis, neurorobotics, neuromorphic computing, high-performance computing and simulation and use of brain atlases. CSN also engaged in the Ethics of research and of consciousness disorders. An unparalleled network of top-notch collaborators was established, from which SILS and FNWI can strongly benefit in the years to come.
author: prof. Marten Smidt
Amsterdam Neuroscience aims to strengthen collaborations between investigators of UVA, VU and AmsterdamUMC by focusing its research strategy on nine defined research programs.
Five research programs (horizontal) focusing on specific brain and nervous system disease mechanisms are complemented by four programs (vertical) focusing on innovation, that will provide proof of concept for causal relationships in brain and nervous system function mechanisms. In Amsterdam Neuroscience, innovation takes place at all levels of study, from molecular to cellular studies, to circuitry and intact brain and behavior, both at the individual as well as population level.
This program assembles most neuroscience in the Amsterdam area and provide a platform for translation and/or collaboration to the clinic (amsterdamUMC) or other valorisation strategies. The four Neuroscience teams within SILS are participating in the (virtual) institute, and it is co-directed by Prof. Smidt (Molecular NeuroScience) (together with co-directors from the Amsterdam UMC and VU).
Topsector Tuinbouw & Uitgangsmaterialen
author: dr. Frank Takken
"How to combat the problem of pests-transmitted viruses"
A consortium of UvA researchers (Petra Bleeker, Rob Schuurink , Frank Takken and Harrold van den Burg) joined forces to develop an integrated solution to boost natural resistance in crops against Tospoviruses. The extensive host range (> 1,000 plant species) and worldwide distribution of these destructive viruses has devastating effects on crops and ornamentals, with losses reaching >100 M€ per annum. Tospoviruses are transmitted by thrips, tiny polyphagous insects that are pests of many plant species. Chemical control has poor efficacy and results in insect populations resistant against all major insecticides. Moreover, these compounds exert a strong negative impact on our ecosystems and biodiversity (including pollinators). In this 1,6 M€-public/private research program co-funded by breeding- and biotechnology companies and Topsector T&U (awarded 2020; duration 3 years), the scientists study the tripartite interaction between plant, virus and its vector at the molecular level. The project builds on the expertise and the discoveries of successful former public-private research programs led by the same scientists. The researchers apply their collective expertise to develop a multi-layered genetic strategy to breed crops where (a) plant resistance is boosted, (b) broken resistances are revived, and (C) novel resistance mechanisms are introduced that reduce insect performance and/or block virus replication. The ambition is to provide novel leads to convert a host into a non-host plant, while repairing broken resistance traits and by reducing attractiveness of crops to the vector. This strategy aims to provide a combination of durable resistance sources against Tomato Spotted Wilt virus (TSWV) and thrips in crops. Previously the team identified mechanisms to reduce TSWV replication and means to reduce attractiveness for pests and to alter resistance traits. By combining these genetic resources and by reviving existing layers of immunity farmers will become less dependent of chemicals, while consumers are offered a high-quality product with a reduced footprint.
SKY HIGH: Vertical farming
author: dr. Francesca Quattrocchio
Climate change, scarcity of fresh water, pesticide use, mineral depletion, rapidly urbanising societies all challenge our food system to feed cities. To cope with these issues a farming revolution, called vertical farming is starting. Vertical farming is a novel technology where plants are grown on many stacked layers. It is a secure and sustainable route to provide cities with fresh food. The Netherlands has the potential to become the world leader.
This program targets a revolution in the production of fresh vegetables. The ambition is a secure and sustainable vegetable supply: no pesticides, no nutrient emission, only 2-4 litres water per kg produce, at least twentyfold less land use, lower food mileage, less waste and lower energy use per kg produce compared to greenhouses. These vegetables have a greatly improved quality (taste, aroma, appearance, shelf life, nutritional value, safety) compared to conventionally produced vegetables. Vertical farming allows for guarantees on vegetable quantity and quality every day of the year independent of weather and is therefore resilient to climate change. This program develops concepts for design and control of vertical farms meeting all mentioned targets on sustainability, yield, and quality, based on a fundamental understanding of the different components of vertical farming. This is achieved by a coordinated effort of researchers from disciplines ranging from genetics, breeding, metabolomics, physiology, horticulture, machine learning, climate control, energy systems and building physics together with a variety of leading companies.This line of research stimulated the interest of companies in the consortium towards the use of Vertical Farms in biotechnologies like Plant Molecular Farming.
The large consortium (for the UvA Francesca Quattrocchio and Ronald Koes) consists of:
- Research institutes: Delft University of Technology (TUD), Eindhoven University of Technology (TUe), Leiden University (LU), University of Amsterdam (UvA), Utrecht University (UU), Wageningen University (WU)
- 15 companies: Signify (Philips Lighting), Own Greens, OneFarm, GrowX, Grodan, Priva, Certhon, Bosman Van Zaal, Van Bergen Kolpa Architects, Bayer, Fresh Forward, Solynta, Unilever, Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS)
- 2 knowledge institutes and other organisations: HAS university of applied Sciences, Wageningen Plant Research, Association for Vertical Farming, FarmTech Society, GroentenFruit Huis, Centraal Bureau voor Levensmiddelhandel, Rabobank, Natuur en Milieufederatie Noord-Holland.
author: dr. Frank Jacobs
The NWA-ORC consortium ‘ProMise’(Tackling defective Prefrontal development in Mendelian Syndromes) is a collaborative effort between 7 research and clinical groups at Radboud University, University of Leiden and University of Amsterdam (Jacobs / SILS) together with several other commercial, patient-organization and academic co-funders, which was established in 2019 as part of the National Science Agenda Research on Routes by Consortia (ORC) governed by NWO.
The aim of the consortium is to improve our understanding of biological mechanisms underpinning psychiatric and cognitive aspects in Mendelian syndromes, and based on this, develop tailored intervention strategies targeted at the severe behavior and psychiatric problems that are frequently encountered. With the multidisciplinary approach of the consortium, which literally covers all areas between bench and bed-side, we aim to provide a roadmap to integrate neurocognitive and biological knowledge to improve patient care. The lab of Dr. Jacobs at SILS is involved in the generation of human and patient-specific model systems to study the molecular mechanisms of neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric diseases as well as testing potential therapeutics strategies in human brain organoid models.
author: dr. Aniko Korosi
A large Horizon Europe consortium including neurobiologist Aniko Korosi from the Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences (SILS-UvA) received a €10 million grant for the project HappyMums. HappyMums includes a total of 17 international partners. intends to improve our understanding on depressive symptoms in pregnancy to improve mental health outcomes for both mothers and their offspring. Maternal depressive symptoms have been shown to lead to alterations in the environment of the foetus, affecting the risk for developing negative mental outcomes for the child as well. The project will interrogate a large collection of patient cohorts with multiple biological, medical, clinical, socio-demographic and environmental and lifestyle data to identify the most robust risk factors triggering depressive symptoms, but also moderators of the risk. We will combine experiments on human and animal models to understand the neurobiological mechanism affected by depressive symptoms in pregnancy. Within the consortium will put together unique human tissue samples of placenta, chorionic villi and amniotic fluid for their study, and support their findings with the use of animal models. Three complimentary rodent models will be included in the study to achieve a proof of causality, and the researchers will use an innovative fish model to elucidate the mechanisms specific to placenta, without possible effects of postnatal maternal care.
These findings will allow the identification of new targets for possible medication, as well as repurposing of existing medications and developing nonpharmacological interventions. Finally, within the consortium we will develop a digital platform where data can be collected through a mobile phone app. This will combine AI tools-based data, together with biological, clinical, medical, environmental and lifestyle data, that will be at the interface with clinicians via a dedicated dashboard. The dashboard will allow early screening of depressive symptoms, prompt diagnoses, personalized treatments, and the promotion of protective lifestyle attitudes. Overall, HappyMums will not only increase the knowledge in the field of mental disorders in pregnancy, but also improve the wellbeing of these women, providing unprecedented benefits also to the offspring and thus to society at large. The project is coordinated by the University of Milan and has partners across Europe.
Dr Aniko Korosi will collaborate in particular with Dr Bart Pollux (WUR), on the innovative fish model to study the role of the placenta and with the group of Dr Annamaria Cattaneo (Milan) to study the effects of early-stress in novel mouse models.