Nieuws - 9 augustus 2011

One and a half million euros greeted with a swearword

A swearword rang through the Laboratory of Biochemistry when Dolf Weijers found out that he would get a substantial European subsidy. 'That was my way of releasing tensions.'

It was 5.30 pm on the Friday afternoon of 8 July. Dolf Weijers was preparing for a hiking holiday in Switzerland when a mail arrived from the European Research Council. He was to receive a Consolidated Grant of 1.5 million euros.
'I started exclaiming loudly in my office! People came out of theirs to find out what went wrong. I would rather not repeat what I had said; it was outright blasphemy. For me, swearing is a way to release tensions.'
Why such an outburst?
'The entire process had taken almost a year. I started writing last year; the deadline was in November. I had to defend my proposal in May in front of 16 experts whom I didn't know at that time. I had exactly ten minutes to present myself and my proposal, and exactly ten minutes to answer questions fired at a deadly pace. It was rather intimidating. Then came the wait for news from Brussels.
The honouring percentage was only ten percent. How did you manage to succeed?
'I think that's because my proposal is challenging, as well as plausible. I want to find out how plants, in contrast to animals, can produce new organisms throughout their lives. It may not be that spectacular for the mouse cress but a Sequoia tree lives for a few thousand years. We therefore want to get to know the stem cells of plants better. We will attempt to isolate one or two stem cells from a seed and then examine which genes are turned on and off. In particular, cell isolation is technical and still very difficult.'
Weijers' plans will be featured in more detail in Resource magazine of 18 August.