Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Fellowships for five Utrecht University researchers

Prestigious grant supports wide-ranging fundamental research topics

Five researchers at Utrecht University have been awarded a prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Fellowship. The MSCA fellowships support training, skills and career development for outstanding researchers.

Founded by the European Commission, the MSCA Fellowships are among Europe’s most competitive and prestigious research and innovation grants. This year’s laureates at Utrecht University will focus on topics ranging from behaviour-affecting fungi, new chemical catalysts, miniature kidney models, ocean currents, and fungi as sustainable material.

Dr. William Beckerson

Funding of this interdisciplinary research approach provides an exciting opportunity to study behaviour-modifying compounds in novel ways and highlights the value of collaborative efforts.

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a species complex of entomopathogens known for their ability to manipulate the behaviour of infected ants (zombie ants). While these behavioural effects are well described, the molecular basis for behavioural manipulation is still being explored. William Beckerson's research will build on previous work that identified candidate behaviour-affecting compounds by utilizing the model organism C. elegans to analyse the transferability of these effectors to other animal models and to understand their effect on core neurological pathways. 

Dr. Chinky Binnani

A promising approach to produce industrially relevant chemicals such as formic acid or methanol in a more sustainable way, is the catalytic hydrogenation of CO2, using hydrogen produced with renewable energy. However, most efficient catalysts for methanol production are based on scarce metals such as ruthenium. Instead, the more abundant element nickel could serve as a new, efficient catalyst.

Embedded in the research group of Dr. Marc-Etienne Moret, Chinky Binnani's project aims towards the development of an efficient, cost-effective, potentially scalable nickel-based catalytic system. To this end, Binnani will develop nickel/olefin pincer complexes. These have recently been shown to activate hydrogen via a new cooperative mechanism, and are therefore strong candidates for CO2 hydrogenation.

Dr. Quentin Faucher

The aim of my research is to engineer a miniature kidney-brain axis to unravel neuropathies associated with chronic kidney disease.

Kidney patients suffer from complications caused by changes in blood composition. The accumulation of endogenous waste products (uremic toxins) in kidney function impairment affects other organs in addition to the kidneys. For example, neurological complications have been observed for which the pathological mechanisms are not well understood. In this project, Quentin Faucher aims to decipher the impact of uremic toxins on the brain and, in particular, the blood-brain barrier. Faucher and his team will develop an innovative in vitro model to mimic the kidney-brain axis using an interconnected microfluidic system. In addition to providing insight into the neurological problems associated with kidney failure, this model might contribute to the development of effective therapies.

Dr. Siren Rühs

I will virtually track water parcels to understand how the exchange of heat and salt between the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans impacts future climate projections

The global overturning circulation is a complex system of upper and deep ocean currents that redistributes heat between the Southern and Northern Hemispheres. Changes in the overturning strength represent a key uncertainty for future climate projections. The overall goal of Siren Rühs’ MSCA project is to unravel how projections for the overturning strength –and future climate as a whole– depend on the simulated heat and salt transports in the South Atlantic. Rühs will apply advanced virtual particle tracking methods to state-of-the-art climate models to elucidate the processes that determine the mean heat and salt transport in the South Atlantic and their changes under anthropogenic climate change. Rühs will particularly focus on the role played by the exchange of heat and salt between the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans, as there is increasing evidence for their importance, but insufficient knowledge on their representation in climate models.

Dr. Sun Wenjing

The development of natural-based materials is crucial to reduce environmental impact and achieve a circular economy. Fungal mycelium has recently achieved significant attention as a new biobased sustainable material. Even though mycelium materials have been developed into different products, little is known about the fundamentals, especially the essential factors that determine the material properties. Working with prof. Han Wösten, Sun Wenjing aims to provide an in-depth understanding of the adhesion of mycelium to the substrate and to use this knowledge to enhance this adhesion to optimize fungal mycelium materials thereby contributing to the EU’s sustainability plan.