I started my scientific career in molecular palaeontology using antibodies to study the macromolecular remains in fossil shells and dinosaur bones. Inspired by the work of the American scientists Norman Pace and David Stahl, I changed my research interests from dinosaurs to microbes. In 1993, I introduced DGGE (denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis) in microbial ecology as an easy, rapid and cost-effective method to study the structure and dynamics of microbial communities. DGGE changed the field of Microbial Ecology completely; for the first time, it became possible to compare different microbial communities simultaneously, and to monitor population changes over time and after perturbations in a single view. Over the years, DGGE has been used successfully by hundreds of microbiologists from all over the world, including developing countries, to study the diversity of microbial communities. The method became so popular, that until today its publication is the most cited article in the prestigious scientific journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology (vol. 59: 695-700). I used the method to study microbial communities from different natural and engineered ecosystems and was astonished by the enormous microbial diversity present in these environments. Although being able to characterize microbial communities with molecular techniques, I strongly believe that isolation of microbes in pure culture is required for a comprehensive understanding of their role and behaviour in nature. In December 2011, I accepted a position as Full Professor of Microbial Systems Ecology in the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics at the University of Amsterdam. By applying a systems biology approach, which includes experimental work, the use of state-of-the-art -omics™ techniques, and mathematical modelling, I will study the diversity and activity of microbial communities, the interactions (competition/coexistence) between different community members, and the role of diversity in ecosystem functioning. In 2012, I received a prestigiouse ERC Advanced Grant on a project entitled ‘The Paradox of Sulfur Bacteria in Soda Lakes’ (PARASOL).

Subjects:

Ecology, Environmental Biotechnology, Evolution, Meta-omics, Microbiology, Microbial Ecology, Molecular Biology, System Biology