Science - January 12, 2006

Plant researcher gets Vici grant

Dr Harro Bouwmeester, a researcher at Plant Research International, has been awarded a Vici grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The grant consists of 1.25 million euros in the form of a subsidy that Bouwmeester can use over the next five years to build up his own research group.

Bouwmeester will do research on plant parasites. The parasitic plants striga and orobanche parasitize various food crops in Africa, the Middle East and Southern Europe, causing large-scale harvest losses.

Recent research indicates that the parasites start to germinate when they sense substances that the crops exude to attract useful soil fungi. Bouwmeester intends to use the Vici grant money to find out which genes are involved in the production of signal substances by the host plant, and how the parasite orobanche recognises the substances.

The plant researcher specialises in the way in which plants communicate with their surroundings. He was co-author of an article that was published in Science last year on an Arabidopsis plant that had a strawberry-plant gene built in. The gene enabled the Arabidopsis to ‘call on’ enemies of the noxious red spider mite.

Two Wageningen researchers have also been awarded Veni grants. Veni grants are worth a maximum of 200,000 euros and are intended for young, recent PhD graduates. Entomologist Dr Ties Huigens received a grant to do research on parasitic wasps that use the anti-sex scents of butterflies. Molecular biologist Dr Erik Limpens will examine the formation of root nodules in leguminous plants. / KV

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