Six awards in the Open Programme Earth and Life Sciences

12 November 2018

In October 2018, two committees considered a total of 56 applications in the Open Programme Earth and Life Sciences. The domain board decided to award grants to six projects. These projects relate to temperature and gender determination, resilience and the recovery of tropical forests, cellular decision-making, volcanic pollution and extinction events, plants that touch each other, and vitamin B5 and metabolic disorders.

Awarded projects

Temperature fluctuations as universal engine for evolutionary diversification of sex-determination: a theoretical study using mechanistic models
Professor Ido Pen, University of Groningen
Evolutionary fluctuations in gender determination driven by temperature fluctuations
The gender of an individual is determined by a tremendous variety of mechanisms in the plant and animal kingdom, ranging from purely genetic right through to purely ambient mechanisms. The reason for this is still a mystery. Variations in ambient temperature appear to be important, as many genetic development processes are sensitive to variations in temperature. We are going to use theoretical computer models to make predictions of the evolutionary role of temporal and spatial temperature fluctuations in gender determination. We will then collaborate with experimental groups to test these predictions with various animal families including worms, flies, and lizards.

Structure, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning of dry and wet secondary forests (S-BEF)
Professor Frans Bongers, Wageningen University and Research
Wet and dry tropical forests differ in resilience
Tropical forests disappear due to deforestation, but can regrow naturally. These new secondary forests are rich in tree species that have various properties and recover rapidly after disturbance. They respond resiliently to climate change such as increasing drought. Resilience is a combination of resistance and recovery. We think that dry forests are particularly resistant to drought and that wet forests, in particular, recover rapidly after drought. This research analyses the causes and mechanisms of the differences in the resilience of dry and wet forests to yield knowledge that will be of help in forest recovery and reforestation in the tropics.

Cellular decision-making: Choosing transcriptional responses to environmental cues by individual cells
Dr Klaas Willem Mulder, Radboud University Nijmegen
Cellular decision-making
Body cells are rarely isolated – and even the cells that are isolated continually receive signals from their surroundings. These signals are crucial for the early development of the embryo, as well as for tissue healing after injury or during an illness. This project strives to gain an understanding of how cells decide on their response to these signals and of the processes taking place in the cells that influence their decision-making.

Deadly LIPs: Volcanogenic phytotoxic pollution during the end-Triassic extinction
Dr Bas van de Schootbrugge, Utrecht University
Prehistoric volcanogenic pollution as the cause of mass extinction
Although the relationship between large scale volcanic activity and extinction – such as at the boundary of the Triassic and Jurassic periods (201 million years ago) – is accepted, it is still difficult to determine the exact mechanisms that are involved. This uses emissions of mercury and PAHs to study the direct effects of volcanic activity on the biosphere. Triassic/Jurassic sediments contain high concentrations of mercury and PAHs, as well as of mutated pollen and spores that are indicative of extreme stress. A comparison of European and New Zealand sediment core samples will yield an understanding of regional effects as compared to global effects. This study will also make the first use of Triassic sediments from Winterswijk.

Every time we touch, I feel the static – molecular basis of touch-induced leaf movement
Dr Kaisa Kajala, Utrecht University
How plants detect each other by touch
Feeding the increasing world's population is possible solely with a tremendous increase in global food production. This can only be achieved by cultivating food crops at high densities, which in turn requires an optimum reaction from the plants. Some years ago, the researchers discovered a new reaction of plants in which they detected their neighbouring plants by touch. The researchers wish to unravel how plants use touch, how they process the signals at cellular level, and how this leads to growth adjustments. This knowledge will assist in the optimization of the growth of plants cultivated at high densities.

Source: NWO