Please learn more about colleagues in our "Personal Touch" series setting employees in the spotlight. A light-hearted manner to learn about the colleagues you know and those you don't!.
This week: Ronald van Rij
1. Name, nationality, current function, department & theme?
Ronald van Rij, Dutch. I am Associate Professor at the dept. of Medical Microbiology, theme Infectious Diseases and Global Health.
2. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up? Can you tell us something about your child years.
I did not have clear ideas about specific careers, but I liked nature and biology a lot.
3. What was your previous academic training, where did you study and why that study?
I studied Biotechnology in Wageningen, which was at that time a new BSc/MSc study that combined molecular cell biology and biotechnology. My choice was probably also based on the unique atmosphere of Wageningen as a place to live and study. I did my PhD in Amsterdam studying HIV-1 infection and AIDS pathogenesis. After postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Francisco, and a brief postdoc at the Hubrecht Institute, Utrecht, I joined Radboudumc as a tenure-track fellow in 2008.
4. The RIMLS motto is ‘to understand molecular mechanisms of disease’. What does this mean for you?
Understanding disease begins with understanding biology: without in-depth insights into fundamental cell biological processes one cannot begin to understand disease. It is therefore crucial that curiosity-driven, fundamental science remains strongly supported, as it has the potential to push the boundaries of our knowledge when important questions are being addressed.
In my group, we study virus-host interactions, with a focus on antiviral defense and small RNA pathways in insects and mammals. Our model systems are arboviruses — viruses that that shuttle between mosquitoes and mammals, such as Dengue virus — as well as insect-specific RNA viruses of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. With our work we hope to understand how different hosts protect themselves from virus infection. This is an important scientific problem, it will contribute to our understanding of arbovirus transmission cycles, and may, eventually, help preventing arboviral diseases.
5. Who is your great example as scientists? And please give a motivation why.
Of the scientific giants out there, Sidney Brenner is a truly inspirational character and a visionary scientist. He played a major part in understanding the flow of genetic information from DNA to proteins, for example, he proposed the concept of mRNA. Later on he established C. elegans as a model organism. Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuqfGmk9BII if you have 3 minutes to spare. Of the people I worked with, my former postdoctoral supervisor in San Francisco, Raul Andino, is a highly creative thinker who has a keen eye for important scientific problems and addresses them using highly original approaches.
6. Which research discovery that you have made has made you most proud?
I am proud of all papers that my lab publishes, as I witness how hard lab members work to develop their research and how painful and frustrating it can be to get the work published.
From a personal view, I am proud of my discoveries during postdoctoral training in San Francisco. There I set up a system to study virus infections in the genetic model organism Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly), and used it to show that RNA interference (RNAi) is an antiviral defense mechanism. Together with my good friend and colleague Carla Saleh (now at Pasteur), we subsequently showed that RNAi sets up a systemic immune response. These discoveries have been published in high-impact journals, and, more importantly, they have been cited extensively.
7. Given unlimited finance what experiment would you perform?
Obviously the experiments we are currently doing in the lab. But with truly unlimited funds, I would invest in getting a better functional annotation of mosquito genomes and in setting up the genetic tools in vector mosquitoes to the level that it matches the experimental toolbox of Drosophila. Furthermore, I would sponsor several postdocs to pursue risky, original ideas of their own, without having to worry about getting funding to pursue them.
8. What does your working area (desk, office) look like and what does it say about you (or your research)?
It is somewhat messy, which says more about not having enough time to clean things up than anything else (so I hope).
9. Nominate a colleague to be in the spotlight and what would you like to ask him or her?
A colleague who has left science to pursue an alternative career in the academic system, such as project management, science policy, teaching. I would ask him/her whether they miss doing science and what they would recommend PhDs/postdocs with an interest in such a career.
10. What type of person are you, quick insights:
a) Mac or PC? : Mac
b) Theatre or cinema? : Figdor theatre
c) Dine out or dine in? : Dining out is always a treat, but I also enjoy dining in with my 2 boys.
d) Ferrari or Fiat? : Neither
e) Shopaholic or chocoholic? : Neither
f) Culture or Nature : Nature
Correct answer of Ilse Dingejan: B.
Fun-facts. State an interesting/obscure fact about yourself together with two that are false? Correct answer will be revealed to readers in the subsequent edition.
A: I am bad at waking up early.
B: The first time I visited Nijmegen was during my job interview.
C: I will move to Nijmegen next year.
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