Veni grant for research in phylogenetic networks

The Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) has awarded Leo van Iersel of the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) in Amsterdam a Veni grant for his project “Bringing phylogenetic networks to life”. In his research Van Iersel will be studying methods to generate phylogenetic networks based on DNA data. The results of his research can be applied by doctors and biologists and help them to get a better understanding of how bacteria, viruses and fungi turn into pathogens.

Publication date: 18-10-2011



The Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) has awarded Leo van Iersel of the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) in Amsterdam a Veni grant for his project “Bringing phylogenetic networks to life”. In his research Van Iersel will be studying methods to generate phylogenetic networks based on DNA data. The results of his research can be applied by doctors and biologists and help them to get a better understanding of how bacteria, viruses and fungi turn into pathogens.

A common way to display a simple evolution is based on a tree structure. Software to generate these trees has been developed by mathematicians and is used by biologists on a daily basis. The model  gets more complicated when two species can form a new species or when genetic material from one species can be transferred to another species. Such an evolution can be described by a so called phylogenetic network. Recently, researchers have been trying to develop methods for generating phylogenetic networks but this has not yet led to a method that can be widely applied by biologists

A major challenge in the research of Van Iersel is to identify the conditions that phylogenetic networks need to fulfill. Collaboration with biologists is essential in this process. Van Iersel is working with biologists from the Fungal Biodiversity Centre (Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Van Iersel studied applied mathematics at the University of Twente and has a PhD from Eindhoven University of Technology. He worked as a postdoc at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and as a teacher in primary and secondary schools in Tanzania and Kenya. At CWI he is part of the research group Life Sciences.

 

Leo van Iersel received the Gijs de Leve Prize in 2012 for his research in Lunteren, in January 2012. The prize was awarded for the best PhD thesis in Mathematics of Operations Research in the years 2009 to 2011. The numbers two and three (ex aequo) were also related with CWI: Maaike Verloop and Fernando de Oliveira Filho both did their PhD research at CWI.