23 August 2017

Nationale Wetenschapsagenda

Utrecht University collaborates on quest to find ‘origin of life’

Dozens of Dutch researchers from a total of 17 universities and research institutes are to lay the foundations for major scientific research into the origins of life, from molecular to planetary level. They will join forces in the Origins Center, which is founded using funding from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) that focuses on addressing questions on the Dutch National Research Agenda.

The Dutch National Research Agenda contains nearly 12,000 questions posed by residents of the Netherlands to ‘the science world’ in 2015, grouped into umbrella cluster questions and linked by routes. The NWO is now investing approximately €30 million in the Research Agenda, €2.5 million of which is designated for the route ‘The origin of life – on earth and in the universe’.

Joint quest

The NWO rated the research proposal for the Origins Center as ‘excellent’. The awarded 'startimpuls' means that an initial, exploratory phase of an ambitious research programme can be conducted. In this first phase, dozens of researchers from 17 universities and research institutes will embark on several projects to lay the foundations for sweeping scientific research. The researchers, with backgrounds in Dutch astronomy, earth and planetary sciences, molecular and evolutionary biology, chemistry, computer science, physics and biophysics and mathematics, will work together to explore the origins, workings and future of life in a changing environment, from molecular to planetary level.

Finding answers

To assist the realisation of the research, the submitted plan outlines a virtual platform. Named the Origins Center, the platform is designed to unite various parties and lines of research. Researchers at the Origins Center are also dedicated to providing answers to those who put forward questions regarding the origins of life to the Dutch National Research Agenda, and are therefore establishing an extensive outreach programme. The Origins Center will be officially launched during the Fundamentals of Life in the Universe symposium, on 31 August and 1 September 2017 on the Zernike Campus of the University of Groningen.

Teamwork

The programme’s primary applicant is Nobel Prize winner Prof. Ben Feringa (University of Groningen). From Utrecht University, Inge Loes ten Kate (core group), Willem Kegel, Paul Mason and Wim Spakman are all directly involved in establishing the Origins Center.