Current projects

I am involved in a large European project studying 'Fundamental and applied aspects on biological control by the use of natural enemies' (see BINGO project) and coordinate a large national project on the use of natural variation in resistance traits (see NWO/TTW Vidi project: Pest-killing plants). Caterpillars of lepidopteran insect pests cause serious problems in agriculture and forestry, and finding alternatives to chemical pesticides is important to reduce their threats to agricultural production. I recently received an NWO Aspasia grant meant to encourage the promotion of female Vidi grant candidates to an associate professorship. With the money of this grant I want to study 'The evolutionary history of an insect pest-killing plant trait in the cabbage family'. This project is closely linked to the Vidi grant in which we want to 'Unravel the mechanism of a pest egg-killing trait in a cabbage crop' and that started in September 2016. Together with my Vidi/Aspasia team we will combine evolutionary and molecular biology, (meta)genomics, transcriptional analysis, chemical analysis of plant and insect metabolites, and experimental ecological studies to gain novel insights on how plants make use of this highly effective 'first line of defence' - killing of insect eggs. The Vidi project is further supported by several crop breeding and seed companies. Caterpillars can suffer from defences primed by environmental cues. Egg deposition is a reliable cue for plants to enhance their defences against future attack as studied in the large German CRC 973 project on 'Priming and Memory of Organismic Responses to Stress' in which I am a collaborator and PhD co-supervisor.