The University of Applied Sciences Leiden and Naturalis are working together on a new lectorate in Metagenomics, in order to research the relationship between biodiversity and the health of humans, plants and ecosystems. The new lector is Arjen Speksnijder, the former head of the Naturalis laboratories. Together with students, academic institutes and local businesses, he will develop new techniques to quickly map complex biological systems.
Traditionally, mapping biodiversity is a time-consuming practice. You take samples, you identify the species, and count them. It often requires several experts: the biologist that can identify the water plants, does not also know about all the fish that lay eggs between their roots. That's why this classical approach is more and more often complemented by modern techniques, such as metagenomics.
Metagenomics is a method in which DNA molecules are used to determine which organisms are present in an ecosystem. It's so sensitive, that researchers only need the tiniest amounts of DNA. Rather than catching the fish with a net and identifying them by their morphology, someone can take a water sample and determine which species of fish, insects and other organisms have left DNA traces in the water. This approach is especially suitable for mapping less visible biodiversity such als fungi, small worms or animal remains.
Bio Science Park
Molecular biologist Arjen Speksnijder built the Naturalis laboratories that opened in 2019, and there helped develop the techniques that Naturalis uses for it metagenomics research. As of november 1st, he will work als a lector in Metagenomics at the University of Applied Sciences Leiden (UAS). Together with his new and former colleagues and students, he will work on making these technologies applicable for scientists and business. He will also work together with businesses in the Leiden Bio Science Park, especially the genomics company BaseClear. In order for the techniques to work, an experts-vetted reference collection is essential, which is owned and maintained by Naturalis.
The lectorate is housed in the Leiden Centre for Applied Bioscience (LCAB), which is part of the UAS. This knowlegde center does practice-oriented research into health and biodiversity matters. The LCAB has the knowledge and the facilities to perform research on measurement and detection in biological systems. The addition of Speksnijder to the LCAB makes it a coherents research center where each of the four lectorates has its own individual input.
Naturalis and the UAS Leiden both pay an equal share of the lectorate, which is supported by a L.INT subsidy from Regieorgaan SIA. SIA part of the Dutch research funding organisation NWO, and aims to improve the quality and impact of the Universities of Applied Science, by stimulating cooperation between them, companies and academic institutions. The goal of the L.INT subsidies is to tie the more practical research at UASes closer to academic research at institutions.