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Biology student wins Young Talent graduation prize for Plant Sciences

Recently graduated Biology student Julia López Delgado is one of the winners of the Holland Society Young Talent Awards 2019. She received her prize during the festive award ceremony on 25 November in Haarlem.

Julia López Delgado

Currently, Julia López Delgado lives in the United Kingdom, where she has just started her PhD at the University of Leeds. Returning to the Netherlands for the award ceremony was a no-brainer for her: ‘Yes, absolutely, I am very excited to attend and learn about the projects of the other prize winners.’ With her master thesis, Julia won the East-West Seed Graduation Prize for Plant Sciences and an amount of €5000.

Over one hundred plant species

Julia followed the master’s programme Evolutionary Biology at the Institute of Biology Leiden and decided to do an internship at the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) at the University of Amsterdam. Under the supervision of assistant professor Patrick Meirmans at IBED Julia wanted to find out what are the drivers of the genetic diversity of North American plant populations. Two types of processes determine this genetic diversity. Historical processes like glaciations separated populations from each other, and demographic processes like fluctuations in population size also cause genetic differences. The relative importance of these different processes was so far unknown.

To figure this out Julia gathered datasets of no less than 106 plant species. For each species, she made a model of its distribution and combined this with genetic data. This way Julia could test whether historical or demographic processes were more important in shaping the current genetic diversity. The result was surprising: both processes turned out to be almost equally important.

Julia with her supervisors Dr. Klaas Vrieling (left) and Dr. Patrick Meirmans (right). Photo by courtesy of Julia López Delgado

Novel and challenging

According to supervisor Patrick Meirmans Julia’s subject was ‘very novel and challenging’ by combining genetics with ecological modelling. He is not surprised that Julia was rewarded this Young Talent prize: ‘Julia is a hard-working and intelligent student with a sincere interest in genetics and evolutionary biology. She is highly motivated to become a scientist and I am convinced that she is going to be a great one.’ Julia’s supervisor at the Institute of Biology Leiden Klaas Vrieling and the Director of Education Han de Winde are also very proud. De Winde: ‘A well-deserved and prestigious award, which underscores Julia’s exceptional talent and achievements as a young and promising scientist.’

Gálapagos iguanas

Julia finished the master’s track in Leiden in August 2019, and she is now doing a PhD project at the University of Leeds on the genetics of the evolution and adaptation of the Galápagos iguanas. Her thesis will not disappear in a drawer according to Patrick Meirmans: ‘We are currently reworking her thesis into at least three manuscripts for publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals.’ Julia already has an idea of what she wants to do with her prize money: ‘I would love to go travelling next year, and make sure I save the remainder for the future.’

Images made by Hilde de Wolf, with courtesy of The Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities.

The Holland Society Young Talents Awards are awarded annually to promote scientific education in technical and exact subjects. Exceptional study results in the form of a master's thesis or research report at a Dutch institution for scientific education are honored and rewarded with an amount of €5000. The Dutch seed breeding company East-West Seed sponsors the East-West Seed Graduation Prize for Plant Sciences.

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