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Roeland van Ham

Roeland van Ham:

"NGS is a very powerful, but also very brute technology. There has to be a much more efficient way to distil the desired information."

Vice-President Bioinformatics and Modeling
Department size: 27

1. What is the leading research theme in your department?
"The main objective of our lead discovery platform is to determine the genetic basis of plant traits and to develop methods to introduce those traits into crops in the most efficient way. Our passion is a Green Gene revolution, which means that we do not employ genetic modification. Instead, we develop smart strategies to pinpoint the genetic basis of desired traits, exploit natural genetic variation or induce novel variation through random or targeted mutagenesis and subsequently use our highly efficient screening technologies to select the best candidates. Our focus is on developing new bioinformatics tools to determine, as detailed as possible, which genes are connected to a certain trait and tools to optimize the plant breeding process."

2. With what type of groups or organisations do you collaborate most and why?
"We are a contract research company, which means that the majority of our work is to serve our clients in the plant breeding industry. But we are also an active participant in pre-competitive research conducted in various public-private partnerships, at the national and European level. And we have bilateral collaborations ongoing with academic research groups worldwide. Maintaining and developing our knowledge base has high priority."

3. From your research perspective, what are the main challenges in bioinformatics right now?
"For many people, the challenge is in dealing with Big Data, but personally I think that we will also see some contrary developments. NGS, for example, is a very powerful, but also very brute technology. There has to be a much more efficient way to distil the desired information. The question is therefore how we can get to that information in a smart and elegant manner. To me, the most appealing challenge is to be able to determine right down to the level of an individual DNA base if, how and to what extent this base contributes to a given trait. If we are able to do that, we can really start molecular engineering on a whole new level."

4. What is the most important task of a group leader?

"It all starts with passion and fun. Passion for what you do and having fun doing it. But that is not enough, you have to create a working environment where people have the space and the freedom to grow and develop. Motivated people will find their own path."

5. Where do you see room for improvement in your group?

"I can honestly say that we are doing really well, but the challenge is to stay alert and stay critical towards your own performance. Maintaining a fruitful working environment requires your attention everyday."

Text by Esther Thole.