Thomas Aalders, Master’s student of Green Life Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, has been awarded a NWO TOP Grant. This is the largest personal grant one can obtain as a Master’s student. With the grant money, over 300,000 Euros, he can finance his own research for four years within the Plant Pathology group.
Aalders participated in the Experimental school of Plant Sciences (EPS) talent programme. The aim of this programme is to provide talented MSc students within the molecular sciences a good overview of the research field and guide them in writing their own research proposal. The Master’s student chose to collaborate with UvA-researchers Frank Takken and Harrold van den Burg to write this proposal. After a first selection round and interviews the proposal has been granted by the Topsector programme, Horticulture and Propagation Materials.
Aalders will use the grant for research on the infamous plant fungus Fusarium, which causes wilt disease in various crops. One of the crops that is regularly affected by the fungus is tomato. Recently, research by the Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences (UvA) showed that a Fusarium protein called SIX8 is essential for the successful infection of tomato plants.
The question now is, why? It appears that the fungal protein sabotages the plant defense system. Aalders will investigate how this works at the molecular level. The knowledge produced will also be important for improved protection of plants other than tomato. Other races of Fusarium, which infect other plant species, have the same SIX8 protein implying a key role for this protein in disease. Recently, Martijn Rep's team at the UvA demonstrated that a similar (SIX) protein is essential for infection of banana plants by another Fusarium race that currently threatens the global harvest.