Ilja van Hoek

Master Student

Background

As a kid I was a dreamer, didn’t need much to drift off to my own world. My mother said that while she was cooking, she put a bowl with beans in front of me and I’d be busy for the next 2 hours, observing and analyzing the beans. As I got older, I got busy observing the world. My ‘why’ phase never really ended. In high school I was so dissatisfied about everyone accepting all the facts, that biomolecules ‘just’ do something. I wanted to know how life possibly could come to such a complex system. I liked chemistry, zooming in on life forms, analyzing the core elements, the beans in the bowl. Realizing that my answers must be in the chemistry, I started my studies in Molecular Life Sciences in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. I hoped that the teachers could finally answer my why and how questions. I adjusted my expectations, maybe I had to sort it out myself because no one seemed to be on the same wavelength. When I studied for my exam ‘structural bioinformatics’ over the Christmas holidays, I finally got answers. This course touched upon the fundamentals of how life can create a machine like a protein, how life can regulate its ‘worker’-molecules. I finally found the research area where an analyzing, almost philosophical mind was needed. Evolution is the basis of the answers to life, zooming out and in, whether you look at a social encounter in the cafeteria or the function of a gene. That’s why I’m so honoured to work in Thijs’ lab, to study genomes that can change the idea of evolution at the origin of life. 

Project

As part of my second 6 months master thesis, I worked under supervision of Anja Spang on the genomic diversity in the Archaeal lineages. In my project I focused on the DPANN Archaea, many members of this superphylum seem to have an extremely reduced genomic repertoire. By studying new DPANN genomes using metagenomic binning and molecular phylogeny, we could answer questions about the early development of Archaea and their evolutionary relation to Eukaryotes. All the surprising, novel genomic information urge the rearrangement of the current domains of life. After a lot of binning and rebinning, I found new (partial) genomes which seem to be part of the DPANN phylum.