Dick de Ridder, Ph.D
Bioinformatics Group, Plant Sciences Group, Wageningen University
1. What is the leading research theme in your group?
"Developing algorithms that enable us to integrate biological data with existing biological knowledge to build predictive models, which in turn help biologists. For example, using data on protein sequence and function to predict protein-protein interactions, which helps to understand biological networks. Our biological application is currently mostly in plant sciences. Here, we focus on crops relevant to agriculture, particularly vegetables and fruits. We want to understand how their taste and appearance are determined at the genetic and molecular level. However, very similar questions are relevant to animal, food and nutrition sciences. Understanding genotype-phenotype relationships is very important to the breeding industry. Working with plants and animals is a new challenge for me and it comes with a new set of limitations. We know a lot less about plants and animals, compared to the microbes I previously worked on."
2. With what type of groups or organisations do you collaborate most and why?
"We are still in the start-up phase of our group, so right now we don't have an extensive network in place. But we will of course collaborate with our colleagues in the Plant Sciences Group and the Graduate School of Experimental Plant Sciences, as well as those at Animal Sciences and Agrotechnology & Food Sciences. There are also close connections to the activities of Plant Research International (PRI) and the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO), both here in Wageningen. Companies active in the breeding industry are potential future partners as well."
3. From your research perspective, what are the main challenges in bioinformatics right now?
"A short term challenge is finding a way to work through the host of sequencing data in the most efficient manner to identify the relevant information. Developing adequate algorithms for data mining is crucial here. In the long run, a grand challenge is to move from a descriptive approach to data integration to a level where we can actually predict the necessary experiments to achieve a certain goal."
4. What is the most important task of a group leader?
"Motivate and stimulate people to take on a challenge, to not shy away from the difficult questions. When it comes to the permanent staff, coaching them in their professional development is also a responsibility of a group leader."
5. How would you describe the atmosphere in your group?
"I have to say that the atmosphere is comparable to what I was used to in Delft. People are open-minded and enthusiastic about their research."