Lecture series

How can we use information on the habitability of planet Earth to predict extraterrestrial life? Which protein is responsible for the competition between mammalian spermatozoa? Which marine microorganisms actually profit off plastic waste, and how do nature videographers always manage to get the perfect shot? Find out at our lecture series in the week of 29 March 2021. Every weekday at 16:30, with the exception of Thursday (13:00) we will provide you with lectures that surpass the curriculum at Leiden University.

The lectures will take place on Kaltura in webinar mode, and you will be able to communicate with the speaker through the chatbox. After each presentation, there will be the opportunity to ask questions.

At the bottom of this page you can register for the lectures. Registering is not mandatory, but if you do (and if you are a member of the LBC), you are eligible for a year-long subscription of Discovery+!


Monday 29 March, 16:30 | Dr. Dennis Höning (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam & Origins Center), Astrobiology – The search for life in the universe

Are we alone? Since the discovery of the first exoplanets – planets beyond our solar system – this question has gained more and more momentum. Using huge space telescopes, there have been thousands of exoplanets discovered by now. At the same time, orbiters, rovers, and even subsurface drills are exploring planets and moons within our solar system to search for life. How would these life forms look like? How do we know on which planetary bodies and environments we should focus on, and what are potential biomarkers? The field of Astrobiology connects scientific disciplines ranging from geosciences and biology to engineering sciences. I will give an overview of state-of-the-art discoveries and challenges, thereby focusing on physical processes that control the habitability of a planet. Finally, I will also talk about opportunities how to enter the emerging field of Astrobiology.

Tuesday 30 March, 16:30 | Dr. Alexandra Amaral (Max Planck institute for Molecular Genetics, Berlin), Mammalian sperm motility and competition

Dr. Amaral will give a presentation about her research and recently published PLOS Genetics article, RAC1 controls progressive movement and competitiveness of mammalian spermatozoa (4 February 2021). This article sparked a whole new debate about reproduction, as the article states that sperm cells have the ability to 'poison' their competitors.

Read her article here:

Amaral, A. & Herrmann, B. G. (2021). RAC1 controls progressive movement and competitiveness of mammalian spermatozoa. PLOS Genetics, 17(2). doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1009308

Wednesday 31 March, 16:30 | Prof. Dr. Linda Amaral-Zettler (Netherlands Institute for Sea Research & University of Amsterdam), A Hitchhiker's Guide to the "Plastisphere"

Plastic Marine Debris (PMD) is a major source of marine pollution and potential source of invasive alien species including harmful algal blooming species, two important ocean health index criteria. While macroplastic is the most conspicuous and iconic debris in the environment, micro (< 5 mm) and nano-sized (<50 µm) plastic particles are now recognized as a growing concern. Broadening interest in the topic has extended to plastic debris in rivers and other freshwater environments. Plastics are almost instantaneously colonized upon contact with water of any kind by a thin film of microorganisms, what we refer to as the "Plastisphere", particularly plastics in the smaller size ranges. My research team has been studying microbial interactions with PMD using a multiphasic approach including high-throughput amplicon and metagenomics sequencing, culturing, Scanning Electron Microscopy, and most recently Combinatorial Labelling and Spectral Imaging – Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization (CLASI-FISH). These techniques all lend themselves to time-series sampling of developing biofilms on "virgin" substrates that can be sampled at desired time-points thereafter. Our early investigations revealed that Plastisphere communities are quite distinct from the surrounding environment, but time series investigations provide a time-stamp on the succession and community assembly in Plastisphere communities that is difficult if not impossible to achieve in naturally collected samples. My talk will review what is known about diversity in the "Plastisphere" to date and discuss the advantages and disadvantages different technologies present in addressing some of the most urgent questions regarding this newest of marine habitats.

Thursday 1 April, 13:00 | Sam Reitsma (EMS Films), The production of nature documentaries

EMS films is a documentary production company based in Amsterdam, and are known for their films like 'De Nieuwe Wildernis' and 'De Wilde Stad'. Sam Reitsma, one of their employees, will give us an introduction on what it means to film nature documentaries and how to work with a living scenery.


Dr. Dennis Höning

Dr. Dennis Höning is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Origins Center based at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He studies the interactions between life and environments and the habitability of our planet. He obtained his degrees at the University of Münster, and subsequently did his PhD research at the German Aerospace Center.

Dr. Alexandra Amaral

Dr. Alexandra Amaral is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, Germany. She conducted her bachelors' and masters degree and PhD at Coimbra University in Portugal. At the Max Planck Institute, she mainly focuses on mammalian reproductive biology.

Prof. Dr. Linda Amaral-Zettler

Prof. Dr. Linda Amaral-Zettler is a marine microbiologist researching biofilms on plastic waste. Currently, Linda is a research leader at the Department of Marine Microbiology and Biogeochemistry at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), and holds a Special Chair position in Marine Microbiology at the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) at the University of Amsterdam. On top of that, she is also affilated with the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, USA as a fellow.

Sam Reitsma

Sam Reitsma is 21 years old and lives in Zaandam. Combining his study Applied Biology and his passion for nature photography and videography, he works on nature documentaries for the company EMS Films. They are known for films like 'De Nieuwe Wildernis' and 'De Wilde Stad' (Wild Amsterdam). Sam films, edits and works on other processes for upcoming documentaries like Wild Port of Europe. His goal is to film for the BBC or other big nature documentary companies abroad.