dr. R. (Rutger) Hermsen
Assistant Professor

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Currently, my research focuses on two domains.

First, I'm interested in fundamental questions concerning evolution in heterogeneous environments. We address these questions by studying theoretical (mathematical) models. In these models, we explore the simple idea that mutations may not only affect an organism's fitness in its current habitat, but could also alter its spatial range. Despite the simplicity of this idea, little has been done to establish minimal models of the emerging evolutionary modes, in which adaptation and range expansion go hand in hand. We have made some progress by analyzing stochastic models of populations evolving in source-sink ecologies or one-dimensional gradients – but many directions remain unexplored. The formalisms we employ in these projects are often borrowed from physics (stochastic processes, front propagation, first-passage theory) and the models tend to be strongly simplified. This project is supported by a NWO "Veni" grant.

Second, we aim to understand the growth of bacterial cultures on mixed-substrate media based on coarse-grained, systems-level constraints and principles. Recently, fundamentally new insights into the classical phenomenon of catabolite repression have thrown new light on the regulation of carbon catabolic processes in Escherichia coli. We have shown that these insights permit quantitative predictions of, among others, substrate consumption patterns and steady-state growth rates. This line of work originated during my postdoc with Prof. Terence Hwa at UC San Diego and the CTBP; the experiments required to fuel and test our models are performed in his lab.


Involved in the following study programme(s)
Scientific expertise
Stochastic models of population genetics
Mechanisms of gene regulation and transcription networks.
Bacterial physiology.
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Curriculum vitae

2013 – now

Assistant Professor (Tenure Track)
University Utrecht, Department of Biology, Theoretical Biology and Bioinformatics

2012 – 2013

Postdoctoral research, supported by NWO through a‘VENI’ grant
Delft University of Technology, Dept. of Bionanoscience
VENI project: ‘Stochastic models of evolution driven by spatial heterogeneity’

2009 – 2012

Postdoctoral research with Prof. Terence Hwa
University of California San Diego, Center for Theoretical Biological Physics


1. Speed, sensitivity and bimodality in transcriptional response networks

2. Physiology of bacterial cells growing on mixed substrates

3. Evolution in heterogeneous environments

2004 – 2008

Doctoral Research with Prof. Pieter Rein ten Wolde
FOM-institute AMOLF and Free University (VU), Amsterdam


1. Principles and mechanisms of transcriptional regulation in prokaryotes

2. Organization and evolution of genome organization

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All publications
  2016 - Scholarly publications
Hermsen, R (30.11.2016). The adaptation rate of a quantitative trait in an environmental gradient. Physical Biology, 13 (6) (12 p.).
  2015 - Scholarly publications
Hermsen, Rutger, Okano, Hiroyuki, You, Conghui, Werner, Nicole & Hwa, Terence (2015). A growth-rate composition formula for the growth of E.coli on co-utilized carbon substrates. Molecular Systems Biology, 11 (4). © 2015 The Authors. Published under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license..
  2013 - Scholarly publications
Deris, J.B., Kim, M., Zhang, Z., Okano, H., Hermsen, R., Groisman, E.A. & Hwa, T. (2013). The innate growth bistability and fitness landscapes of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Science, 342, (pp. 1237435) (1 p.).
  2012 - Scholarly publications
Hermsen, R., Deris, J.B. & Hwa, T. (2012). On the rapidity of antibiotic resistance evolution facilitated by a concentration gradient. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109, (pp. 10775-10780) (6 p.).
  2011 - Scholarly publications
Hermsen, R., Erickson, D.W. & Hwa, T. (2011). Speed, sensitivity, and bistability in auto-activating signaling circuits. PLoS Computational Biology, 7, (pp. e1002265) (1 p.).
  2010 - Scholarly publications
Hermsen, R., Ursem, B. & ten wolde, P.R. (2010). Combinatorial gene regulation using autoregulation. PLoS Computational Biology, 6 (6), (pp. 1000813) (1 p.).
Hermsen, R. & Hwa, T. (2010). Sources and Sinks: a stochastic model of evolution in heterogeneous environments. Physical Review Letters, 105 (24), (pp. 248104) (1 p.).
  2008 - Scholarly publications
Hermsen, R., Teichmann, S.A. & ten wolde, P.R. (2008). Change and necessity in chromosomal gene distributions. Trends in Genetics, 24 (5), (pp. 216-219) (4 p.).
  2006 - Scholarly publications
Hermsen, R., Tans, S. & ten wolde, P.R. (2006). Transcription regulation by competing transcripion factor modules. PLoS Computational Biology, 2 (12).
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Additional functions and activities

No additional functions.

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Full name
dr. R. Hermsen Contact details
Hugo R. Kruytgebouw

Padualaan 8
Room Z510
The Netherlands

Phone number (direct) +31 30 253 3637
Postal address
Postbus 80.056
3508 TB    UTRECHT
The Netherlands
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Last updated 03.06.2014