Personal profile

Biosketch

I am a neurogeneticist studying the mechanistic underpinnings of social behaviour, with the goal of understanding how genetic and environmental factors interact to shape how the brain regulates social interactions. In the earlier part of my career, I joined the labs of Jeff Hall (USA) and Stephen Goodwin (UK) to take a molecular and cellular approach to this question by investigating genetic programs that control the sexually dimorphic development of the nervous system. This was done in the model organism Drosophila melanogaster, the fruit fly, where males and females exhibit different social behaviours, which stem in part from the sex-specific expression of a few critical genes during development. After investigating this genetic component, I joined the lab of Joel Levine (Canada) and became interested in how the experience of interacting with others affects an individual’s physiology and behaviour. Investigating this question made me aware of the profound and pervasive effect of the social environment on individuals. This realization led me to develop an interest in the evolutionary mechanisms underlying social behaviours. As an experimental biologist, I experienced that these theories offer a strong foundation to define hypotheses that can guide innovative experiments. Integrating these theories with experimentation is the basis of much of the research done since I established my lab at the university of Groningen. Another important aspect of my research is that I am convinced that a key step in understanding the mechanistic and evolutionary aspects of social behaviors lies in investigating simple organisms. We developed quantitative paradigms to demonstrate sociability in Drosophila melanogaster -a species with a tractable genetics and advanced tools to manipulate the cellular substrate of behaviourwith the goal of extrapolating these mechanisms to other species. 

My current research focuses on three questions:

  • What mechanisms regulate the response of an individual to its social context?
  • What explains individual differences in sociability?
  • Are those mechanisms evolutionary conserved?

For this, I collaborate with theoretical biologists, neurobiologists, psychologists and behavioural ecologists. These interactions have given me an appreciation for multidisciplinary, but also made me realize the time and efforts it demands. I became increasingly interested and involved in   promoting multidisciplinary in education and became programme director of the Behavioural and Cognitive Neuroscience master (BCN) from 2017 to 2022. This educational programme connects five faculties under a common interest in understanding behaviour and cognition. It exposed me to the methods and objectives of different fields that address a common problem. I also took a role in the Dutch behavioral biology society until 2021 and sit on the Board of the Dobberke foundation for comparative psychology since 2021. 

External positions

Board member, Dobberke Foundation for Comparative Psychology

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or