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The one thing that always intrigued me is how things came to be as they are now. From the particles that make up this universe, to the existence of consciousness. Because of this interest, I was always drawn to science and philosophy. And when I had to choose what to study after middle school, I was choosing between philosophy, astronomy and biology. In the end I picked up biology, because the idea of lifeless matter somehow working together in units and evolving in many different directions is definitely the most fascinating. Moreover, this is the process that is responsible for the great diversity of life present today (including us!).
During my studies at Leiden University (The Netherlands) I mainly got interested in microbial life, at first because they are useful to answer evolutionary questions with lab experiments. During my bachelor thesis I worked on experimental evolution, where I studied the evolution of different E. coli populations during conditions of nutrient deprivation. However, during my masters at Wageningen University (the Netherlands) I learned to appreciate microbes for more than their usability in experiments. The diversity within Bacteria and Archaea is huge and they can live in conditions where nothing else is able to grow, for example in acid mine drainage and thermal vents. At the same time, we have yet to discover a huge majority of this diversity, as only an estimated 1% is cultivable using current methods. Clearly, a major part of the tree of life is yet to be discovered, and I hope to play a role in that discovery!
Archaea are not only interesting because of this uncovered diversity, they also play a major role in understanding the evolution of cell complexity. Recently, this very lab described the Asgard Archaea, an archaeal phylum with clear signs of cellular complexity, such as the presence of eukaryotic membrane trafficking components. For my project, I work on a new group within the Asgard archaea, known as the Freyarchaeota, where I use bioinformatics tools to unveil their possible complexity and what makes them unique. By doing so, I help increase our understanding of the diversity within the Asgard archaea and their evolutionary relation to the eukaryotic domain.