Universiteit Leiden

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Leiden University involved in five Gravitation projects

Leiden University is involved in five new NWO Gravitation projects. Two relate to mental disorder and the remaining three to a healthy lifestyle, the combination of human and artificial intelligence, and the special relationship between plants and microbes.

The gravitation programme aims to bring top researchers in a discipline or in several disciplines together and to facilitate excellence, novelty and the international position of research in the Netherlands. The funding is awarded to consortia of universities and amounts to tens of millions of euros.

The projects in which Leiden University is involved

Brainscapes: A Roadmap from Neurogenetics to Neurobiology 

  • From Leiden University: Boudewijn Lelieveldt (LUMC)Professor of Biomedical Imaging and Director of the Clinical and Experimental Image Processing Lab (Department of Radiology)​​​​​​
  • Other universities: VU Amsterdam (main applicant) and Utrecht University
  • Amount awarded: 19.6m euros

Recent genetic discovery studies have provided unprecedented insight into the genes involved in brain disorders. The next step is to use this knowledge to acquire mechanistic disease insights. BRAINSCAPES will develop novel analytic and experimental tools to study the functional consequences of risk genes on the function of specific cells, their circuits and functional output. The aim is to provide insights into the molecular and cellular basis of complex brain disorders, which can be used to design novel treatments.


  • From Leiden University: Thomas Hankemeier (LACDR), Professor of Analytical Biosciences
  • Other universities: VU Amsterdam (main applicant), Utrecht University and University of Groningen
  • Amount awarded: 17.4m euros

Where you live and work, what you eat and drink, how often you exercise, and other choices that you make in your (daily) life influence your health. The combination of these factors is called the exposome. We still know little about that exposome and therefore about the development of chronic diseases. In the Exposome-NL project, we will apply innovative techniques to investigate which factors of the exposome are important for health and how these work.

 New Science of Mental Disorders 

  • From Leiden University: Bernet Elzinga, Professor of Stress-Related Psychopathology and Andrea Evers, Professor of Health Psychology
  • Other universities: Maastricht University (main applicant) and the University of Amsterdam
  • Amount awarded: 19.3m euros

Worldwide, one in four adults and one in ten children suffer from mental illness at any given moment. Mental illnesses cause considerable suffering, and our best treatments only work for about 40% of patients. We think that mental illnesses reflect dynamic and complex networks of interacting symptoms. This project will study the complex dynamics of these networks, the transdiagnostic processes that drive the connectivity between symptoms, and the effect of network-based interventions tailored for the individual patient.

Harnessing the second genome of plants. Microbial imprinting for crop resilience (MiCRop) 

  • From Leiden University:  Jos Raaijmakers (Institute of Biology), Professor of Microbial Interactions and Diversity and Head of the Microbial Ecology Department at NIOO/KNAW
  • Other universities: University of Amsterdam (main applicant), Wageningen University & Research, Utrecht University and VU Amsterdam
  • Amount awarded: 20.3m euros

Plants recruit and nurture billions of microbes on their roots. In return, the root microbiome supports the plant by improving the uptake of nutrients, enhancing tolerance to environmental stress and providing protection against pests and diseases. MiCRop will unlock how plants under stress recruit these beneficial root microbes. We will harness the yet unknown plant and microbial traits that facilitate this interaction, and translate their potential for the development of next-generation, stress-resilient crops that require fewer fertilisers and pesticides.

Hybrid Intelligence (HI): augmenting human intellect

  • From Leiden University: Catholijn Jonker (TU Delft en LIACS), Professor of Explainable Artificial Intelligence
  • Other universities: VU Amsterdam (main applicant), University of Amsterdam, Delft University of Technology and the University of Groningen
  • Amount awarded: 19m euros

Hybrid Intelligence (HI) combines human and artificial intelligence. Six Dutch universities will develop theories and methods for intelligent systems that cooperate with humans, adapt to dynamic circumstances and can explain their actions. Ethical and legal values, such as transparency, accountability and trust, will be taken into account during the design of such HI systems. The project will demonstrate applications of HI systems in healthcare, education and science to show the potential of artificial intelligence to amplify human intelligence instead of replacing it.

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