ERC Advanced Grant for two Utrecht University researchers

Two researchers from Utrecht University have been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant. Physical geographer Marc Bierkens and chemical biologist Geert-Jan Boons will each receive 2.5 million Euros to pursue a ground-breaking, high-risk project for a period of five years. ERC Advanced Grants are the highest research grant of the European Research Council.

Prof. dr. Marc Bierkens

GEOWAT: A Global Assessment of the Limits of Groundwater Use

Professor of Hydrology Marc Bierkens researches water, specifically the shortage of water. His expertise lies in estimating and understanding the global depletion of groundwater. Over the next five years, Bierkens' ERC project will try to find an answer to the seemingly simple but often avoided question: How much groundwater is there, and how long will it last?

We need groundwater for, among other things, our water and food supply. Across the globe, however, groundwater reserves are being depleted due to explosive population growth and economic development.

“With this grant we can really make a giant step in understanding the problem of worldwide groundwater depletion. It allows us to globally map the volumes of extractable fresh groundwater resources and define ecologically and economically sustainable pathways of future groundwater development.”

Prof. Geert-Jan Boons

SWEETPROMISE: Functional Glycomics Through Chemoenzymatic Synthesis

Professor of Chemical Pharmacology Geert-Jan Boons studies complex carbohydrates found on every cell surface of every form of life. These so-called glycans are involved in many important diseases affecting mankind, from cancer to immune disorders and viral infections. But even though glycans often play key roles, remarkably little is known about their exact biological functions.

This ERC grant will allow Boons to develop methods for easy synthesis of highly complex carbohydrates. This should pave the way for creating large glycan libraries, allowing researchers to better study the properties of these complex biomolecules.

“My aim is to democratize this area of science. By developing straightforward synthetic methods, any lab in this area should be able to employ these, not just my own lab. This will facilitate progress in understanding the biological roles of glycans.”