ERC Advanced Grant for Cees Dekker and Lieven Vandersypen

News - 31 March 2020 - Communication TNW

Two researchers of AS have been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant. Cees Dekker (Bionanoscience) and Lieven Vandersypen (Quantum Nanoscience/QuTech) will receive this European grant, which is awarded to five-year projects conducted by internationally established research leaders.

Cees Dekker - Building a chromosome from the bottom up

How is DNA organized in our cells? In 2018, Cees Dekker had a breakthrough that made headlines. His research group recorded on video how a protein complex extrudes loops in the DNA to pack the genetic material into compact chromosomes. Early this year, he discovered a new kind of DNA loops, called 'Z-loops'.

"With this ERC Advanced Grant, my group can spend the next five years researching how our DNA is organised into chromosomes, which change shape all the time during a cell's life cycle," says Dekker. "In recent years, it has become clear that the spatial arrangement of chromosomes is crucial to their biological function. We are going to figure out exactly how their structure and function are related".

In order to achieve that goal, Cees Dekker will, among other things, build a chromosome from the bottom up - an approach that the group calls 'genome-in-a-box'. "The idea is to add all kinds of essential, DNA-organising proteins to a very long piece of bare DNA that is the size of an entire genome under controlled conditions", explains Dekker. "Indeed, by building it step by step, we can learn a lot. Genome-in-a-box is a unique way to learn which protein systems and physical conditions are needed for the formation of chromosomes."

The Cees Dekker Lab has a lot of knowledge and tools related to single molecule biophysics, which enables the group to manipulate and measure single molecules. Based on that knowledge and skill, and helped by collaborations with some of the world's best biochemists, Cees Dekker and his group expect to be able to literally and figuratively unravel the secrets of chromosomes in the coming years.

Lieven Vandersypen - Performing quantum simulations with an experimental model system

Aristotle’s phrase ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ applies perfectly to Lieven Vandersypen’s research on so-called ‘quantum many body systems’. In these systems, quantum particles interact with one another, leading to phenomena such as quantum magnetism and superconductivity. The complexity of these systems makes them very difficult to model on conventional computers. Instead of using a computer, Vandersypen therefore uses a model quantum system. Vandersypen: “By constructing experimental model systems, we hope to get new insight into some of the biggest open problems in condensed matter physics, and to reveal new physics.”

For more information about this project, please read the more detailed article on the QuTech website.