News - March 16, 2011

Big money for research into tiny matter

Wageningen University is swimming in prizes. The university has been awarded ten million euros for various projects involving nanotechnology.

Microsieves attach specifically to certain cells.
Almost every Dutch university and more than 100 companies competed for 125 million euros in subsidies within the national research programme, NanoNextNL. Wageningen is the second biggest recipient, after Twente, in this FES programme, having been awarded just under 10 million euros in subsidies for innovative and applied research on the nano- and micro-scale. Added to the amounts from the business sector, the university will have more than 11 million euros, and it will itself top this up to just under 20 million euros.
Big winner
According to Professor Han Zuilhof of Organic Chemistry, Wageningen has achievements over the entire spectrum: 'We carry out fundamental and applied research in seven of the ten research themes. All six sciences groups, including the Social Sciences Group, have each obtained some of the subsidy.' AFSG is the big winner, raking in two-thirds of the money.
Wageningen will make its mark with research mainly in the area of nutrition. Zuilhof himself is the coordinator of the bio-sensing programme, which will conduct research into how to detect specific bacteria and other microbiota quickly. 'We will be coating miniscule plates - microsieves - with sugars. Different microbiota are attracted to different sugars and so get themselves attached in a selective way', Zuilhof explains. 'As such, different sugar coatings can be used to bring out specific kinds of bacteria, including pathogens, very rapidly.' Currently, this detection work is very time-consuming because the bacteria need to be bred on agar plates.
'I believe that the principles of such technologies can be applied widely across the medical sector; this shows great promise', says the professor optimistically. 'All sorts of analyses being carried out in hospitals nowadays could in ten years' time perhaps be done at home or by the general practitioner. That will bring down the costs enormously.'