I am a plant scientist and most stimulated by the discipline of genetics, which relates from segregation ratios in populations to gene sequences in DNA. When I studied Biology at the University of Utrecht, I focused on genetics and did my MSc thesis work at the labs of Sjef Smeekens, Sjeng Horbach and Norman Terry (UC Berkeley).
My PhD graduation at the chair group Plant Breeding at WUR was under the supervision of Piet Stam and Pim Lindhout and concerned the exploration for resistance genes of wild lettuce species, Lactuca saligna, against the downy mildew disease.
My current research focus lies on the genetics behind biotic stress resistance and reproductive barriers in crops and their crop wild relatives. In my model crop, lettuce (Lactuca sativa), I study the origin and mechanisms of biotic stress resistance and the nearly complete reproductive isolation between a domesticated (L. sativa) and a related wild species (L. saligna).
Within the discipline of biotic stress resistance, nonhost resistance is arguably the most interesting but least understood type of resistance. The nonhost wild species, L. saligna, offers a unique opportunity to study nonhost resistance at the genetic level, as exceptionally it is crossable with the host cultivated species (F1 shows 2% seed set). Normally related host and non-host species are too diversified from each other and are not crossable or their F1 is completely sterile. My aim is to unravel the genetic network of nonhost resistance.
Furthermore, I use the same interspecific cross to study the adverse effects of this interspecific hybridisation. Plant hybrid incompatibilities, like hybrid inviability and sterility, in F1 or derived progenies allow me to elucidate components of evolutionary diversification, speciation and reproductive barriers between these species.
Both phenomena, reproductive isolation and nonhost resistance, are genetically complex traits. A good understanding of the causes and consequences of these complex traits is essential for further application in plant breeding.