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The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) has awarded a TOP grant to the University of Amsterdam (UvA) population biologists Maurice Sabelis, Martijn Egas, Arne Janssen and Merijn Kant for their research project titled An invasive herbivorous that manipulates host plant defense: Ecology meets plant physiology.

The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) has awarded a TOP grant to the University of Amsterdam (UvA) population biologists Maurice Sabelis, Martijn Egas, Arne Janssen and Merijn Kant for their research project titled An invasive herbivorous that manipulates host plant defense: Ecology meets plant physiology. TOP grants are worth up to 780,000 euros. The NWO has accepted six applications in total for the 2010-2011 round of grants.

Plants can repel herbivores: in response to predation, they can make themselves less edible, for example by producing poison. But they can also attract natural enemies of herbivores through scent signals. Herbivores, however, attempt to overcome this double threat.

The research group headed by Sabelis at the UvA’s Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics demonstrated that a South American spider mite (Tetranychus evansi) has recently invaded Europe, and has become a pest in the world of tomato cultivation. This spider mite can manipulate the defense mechanisms of the tomato plant so that the plant actually yields better food.

Using the TOP grant, Sabelis’ research group will now investigate how the spider mite manages to conquer the plant’s defenses. Additionally, the researchers will examine how immunosuppression may be a result of natural selection, and how this competition with other herbivores and natural enemies affects the interaction. Answers to these questions may lead to new pest control methods.

About the TOP grant

TOP grants are awarded to research groups that excel in (bio)chemistry or chemical technology and that have a proven track record. The grants offer these groups the opportunity and freedom to strengthen or extend excellent, challenging and innovative lines of research.