‘This feels good,’ says Geurts, an assistant professor in the Molecular Biology Laboratory. ‘A lot of work goes into one of those applications and there’s fierce competition. So it’s nice when it ends on a positive note.’
That research focuses on the Trema and Parasponia tropical trees. While these two species are closely related, only Parasponia collaborates with bacteria that fix the nitrogen in the air. Geurts wants to use cross-breeding to find out which differences in their genetic material are responsible for this. As very little is known about the two species at present, he will be deciphering the genetic material of both species.
The Molecular Biology researchers have been searching for the mechanisms behind nitrogen fixation for some time. They want to understand this process so that they can apply it in arable farming. That would make it less dependent on fertilizer, where nitrogen is one of the main components. The Parasponia research has been seen as a promising direction for some years. Before, researchers used to focus on nitrogen fixation in papilionaceous plants such as clover.
Vicis are intended for senior postdocs who want to set up their own group. Together with the Veni and Vidi grants, they make up the innovation incentive scheme aimed at encouraging young researchers. This year, Vicis were awarded to 31 researchers. They were selected from 202 applicants, somewhat less than the 218 last year. So about 15 per cent of the applications are successful. The proportion of women among the successful applicants fell from 31 per cent to 23 per cent of the total. Wageningen University’s score was mediocre with only one Vici — the one Geurts got.