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Science Groot funding for Leiden scientists

Leiden scientists are the main applicants for five projects that have been awarded a Science Groot grant of up to 3 million euros in the Science Domain. In addition, several Leiden scientists are involved in other projects that have been awarded funding.

The new NWO Domain Science started in 2017. The domain set up various project fundings in the open competition for curiosity-driven, non-programmed fundamental research. In this first funding round of NWO Open Competition Domain Science – Groot a total of 92 pre-proposals were submitted. Thirty consortia were allowed to further elaborate their proposal. The domain board has now awarded 20 project proposals funding, as a result of which an award rate of 21.7 per cent was achieved. Half of the domain-wide selection committee consisted of women and four of the consortium awarded funding have a female main applicant.

Projects with main Leiden University as the main applicant 

Resolving the fundamental building principles of the genome

It is increasingly becoming clear that the spatial structure of DNA within a cell is of crucial importance for its function. All DNA-based processes (reading, copying, repair) are tightly interconnected with the three-dimensional organization of chromosomes. Here, we will investigate the basic fundamentals of chromosome structure across all domains of life (in bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes), as well as the interrelation between the chromosomal structure and gene activity, from the test tube to live cells. These studies aim to unravel the design principles of chromosomes and uncover how genome architecture can impact on the establishment of transcriptional programs in health and disease.
Main applicant: Remus Dame (LIC)

The Active Matter Physics of Collective Metastasis
During the early stages of metastasis, clusters of tumour cells combat a series of hurdles to dissociate from the primary tumour, navigate complex surrounding tissues, and enter the circulation in order to reach distant organs. In this program, we map this journey by integrating theoretical models with experimental cell biology, biophysics, and tumour biology. We aim to identify the physical/mechanical parameters that regulate the collective behaviour of tumour cells during these first steps of the metastatic cascade and deliver insights for the rational design of new therapeutic intervention strategies.
Main applicant: Erik Danen (LACDR)
Also involved: Thomas Schmidt (LION), Luca Giomi (LION)

Single Cell Microgel embedded iPS-cells to map molecular variability of cell differentiation using a systems biology approach (SCI-MAP)
To alleviate the burden of age-related chronic diseases, such as osteoarthritis, there is an urgent need to direct the regeneration of tissues. In this respect, human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS-cells) are anticipated as a game-changer. IPS-cells can make, on-demand, any required tissue. However, creating tissues using iPS-cells is currently an uncontrollable, heterogeneous process, which hampers clinical application. SCI-MAP is designed to map and understand key modifiable factors that direct and maintain iPS-cell differentiation into stable, tissue-specific, cells. Knowledge acquired within SCI-MAP will pave the way for the development of effective regenerative therapies in osteoarthritis and beyond.
Main applicant: Ingrid Meulenbelt (LUMC)

Crossing over from the quantum world to the classical world and back
What is a measurement? Quantum mechanics led to a revolution in our understanding of nature and in practical applications. Despite this progress, there remains the question of how the classical world emerges from the underlying quantum physics. This research project aims at providing experimental input to this fundamental question by studying macroscopic quantum superpositions.
Main applicant: Tjerk Oosterkamp (LION)
Also involved: Dirk Bouwmeester (LION)

Unwiring beneficial functions and regulatory networks in the plant endosphere
Plant roots are colonized by billions of microorganisms that affect plant growth and tolerance to (a)biotic stresses. Recently we discovered that plants infected by fungal pathogens actively recruit microbes inside their root tissue, the endosphere, for protection. Here we will investigate how plants under siege communicate with their microbiome and characterize the protective endophytic microbes, their genes, and metabolites. With nano-microscopic techniques, we will unwire where microbes live inside plant roots and express their protective traits. The obtained fundamental knowledge will provide a strong basis for developing innovative strategies that integrate microbiomes in plant breeding and sustainable crop protection.
Main applicants: Jos Raaijmakers (NIOO, IBL), Gilles van Wezel (IBL), Corné Pieterse (UU)
Also involved: Ariane Briegel (IBL)

Other projects with Leiden scientists

Pacing the heart; studying the underlying principles of biological pacemakers
Many people suffer from a too slow heartbeat, because the natural pacemaker, the sinus node, does not function well enough. This project investigates the basic principles of the structure of a robust and regularly functioning sinus node. With the new knowledge, we will build a pacemaker from human stem cells. We will study the development and function of the sinus node in fish and mouse. We will test the new insights using mathematical models. In the future, we hope to be able to repair defective sinus nodes using gene therapy. The cultured pacemakers made from stem cells will be useful to study slow heartbeat and to test new medicines. 
Main applicant: Vincent Christoffels (UvA)
Also involved: Roeland Merks (MI)

Nanoscale regulators of photosynthesis
Plants depend on sunlight for their energy supply. With the use of an ingenious antenna system they use this light very efficiently but in bright sunlight the chances to induce photodamage increase substantially. Fortunately, plants can cope with these dangers with the use of a special protein called PsbS. However, it is completely unknown how this protein does its job. A broad consortium of plant biologists, chemists and physicists team up to investigate with advanced experimental and theoretical methods how PsbS can recognize the danger and set in motion a cascade of processes that lead to efficient photoprotection.
Main applicant: Roberta Croce (VU Amsterdam)
Also involved: Anjali Pandit (LIC)

Nanoplastics: Origin, Structure and Fate
Troubling images, showcasing the large amount of plastic litter that contaminates our waters and threatens wildlife, have become a regular focus of the popular media. Not everyone realizes that we cannot account for a very large fraction of the plastic that escapes into the ocean. A significant portion of this “missing plastic” is hypothesized to result from the degradation of plastics and are named nanoplastics. A multidisciplinary team will now use a breakthrough approach to investigate the formation, presence, and distribution of nanoplastics in aquatic environments. They will study the size, structure, and composition of nanoplastics, their transport across the ocean, as well as their interplay with and impact on the Earth’s aquatic microbiome. The reactivity of nanoplastics will also be assessed, allowing to investigate potential degradation pathways, including those involving microbial interactions.
Main applicant: Bert Weckhuysen (UU)
Also involved: Irene de Groot (LIC)

Unravelling Neural Networks with Structure-Preserving Computing
Machine learning using neural networks is bringing a revolution to our daily lives, automating highly complex tasks such as speech recognition or automotive transport, and is also making its way into the simulation of phenomena in physics, chemistry, astronomy and biology. For the latter, it is essential to better understand neural networks to enable the design of highly efficient, tailor-made neural networks built on top of and interwoven with properties of the underlying science problems. The resulting deeper understanding of neural networks from mathematical, physical and astronomical point of view is vital for future developments in this rapidly developing area.
Main applicant: Wil Schilders (TUE)
Also involved: Simon Portegies Zwart, Elena Sellentin (STRW), Holger Hoos (LIACS)

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