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Dr Yanfang Feng, former PhD student at the Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences, has recieved an NWO Rubicon grant. Feng will utilise the grant for her two-year research at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, USA.

Yanfang Feng. Photo: Uva

In total twenty one researchers in the Netherlands who have recently received their PhDs can do their research at foreign research institutes thanks to a Rubicon grant from NWO. The Rubicon programme gives young, highly promising researchers the opportunity to gain international research experience.

Sleeper cells

Feng studies bacterial survival techniques. Many deadly bacteria can evade antibiotic treatment by 'sleeping' while under threat and then waking up at a later time. This proposal will study how light-activated therapies can target and destroy these hard-to-kill bacteria.


Yanfang obtained her PhD in October 2016, under supervision of honorary professor Benno Ter Kuile, in the group of prof. Stanley Brul. During her PhD, Yanfang studied de novo development of antibiotic resistance in patients in collaboration with the Department of Medical Microbiology of the AMC.

She discovered that when treated with a low dose of antibiotics, pathogenic bacteria can develop resistance against the antibiotic, causing failure in follow-up treatments. The best course of treatment was using the highest dose that the patient can handle for the shortest time needed to cure the infection. Two antibiotics used in alternation or in combination could clear the infection even more effectively and resulted in less resistance.


The Rubicon is the river that Julius Caesar crossed in 49 BC before the series of victories that prompted his famous words 'veni, vidi, vici' ('I came, I saw, I conquered'). Rubicon is part of the NWO Talent Programme, aimed at retaining talented already postdoctoral researchers for science. The Rubicon programme allows recently graduated scientists to gain experience at a foreign top institute. This is an important step up in a scientific career.