Thomas Van Leeuwen and Frederick Verbruggen receive ERC Consolidator Grant

(04-12-2017) The ERC recently published the results of the ERC Consolidator Grant call of 2017.

Two out of 329 prestigious grants are awared to Ghent University: Thomas Van Leeuwen and Frederick Verbruggen each receive about 2 million euro to strive for a breakthrough which will be very important to both science and society.

Control of impulsive action

Have you ever wondered how humans regulate their behaviour? How you can suppress impulses and resist temptations? For centuries, these questions have occupied writers, philosophers and scientists. Nowadays, psychologists attribute goal-directed behaviour to a prefrontal executive system that overrides impulsive actions. Impulse control (or a lack of it) has been linked to health outcomes, school and job success, and personal finances. The idea that people have voluntary control over their impulses and urges also permeates our current socio-economic and legal systems. Yet many fundamental questions about impulse control remain unanswered. This stems from a narrow research focus on the stopping of well-practiced actions.

By taking different cognitive, emotional, motivational & environmental factors into account, the ERC project Ctrl-Impact of Frederick Verbruggen will help us to understand how impulsive actions arise in different situations and how they can be controlled. The work will also lead to novel theoretical insights in clinical disorders & problematic behaviours.

Mechanisms of extreme adaptation in agricultural pests

Mites and insects are serious pests in agriculture and an their inadequate control can lead to disastrous consequences. Amongst the most important crop pests are some exceptional polyphagous species that can feed and thrive on a large number of different plants. Exactly those species are the most hard to control as they develop resistance to pesticides very quickly. This is not a coincidence: plants have developed a vast area of chemical defense compounds to deter herbivory. In counter defense, polyphagous pests have developed efficient detoxification mechanisms that also allow to metabolize pesticides.

With the ERC consolidator grant POLYADAPT, Thomas Van Leeuwen aims at elucidating the molecular genetic mechanisms underlying the exceptional adaptation potential of polyphagous pests, using a spider mite as model organism. The spider mite Tetranychus urticae is notorious for its rapid resistance development and very broad host range of more than 1000 different plant species. By conducting groundbreaking genetic experiments, POLYADAPT aims at answering a key question in the field: which type of variation underlies the extreme adaptation potential of polyphagous pest. The answer will lead to innovative methods of pest management.