van der Wielen Lab
I grew up in a village called Nistelrode and which is located in the southern part of the Netherlands (province Noord-Brabant). As a child I loved to walk with our dog in the woods that surrounded my home village, enjoying nature with a special attention to the different bird species that were present. Since my mother originated from Texel, which is one of the Wadden islands in the northern part of the country, we also spend much time at the North and Wadden Sea, enjoying the marine environment and the rich water fowl diversity.
These interests made me choose to study Biology at the Groningen University in 1990 with the intention to focus on bird or marine ecology. However, during my study I came in contact with Dr. Hans van Gemerden, who gave several microbial ecology courses and who inspired me to focus my masters thesis on the microbial ecology of the sulfur cycle in microbial mats that are present on the Wadden sediments.
After graduating for my masters in 1996, I decided to proceed as a PhD student at the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the Utrecht University, studying the microbial ecology of the intestinal tract of broiler chickens. My PhD focused on the development of probiotic starter cultures for broilers that accelerate the formation of volatile fatty acids in the cecum, which inhibits the potential growth of Salmonella. This PhD research resulted in five peer-reviewed publications and the discovery of a novel bacterium that I named Clostridium lactatifermentans.
After obtaining my PhD in 2002, I decided to move back to Groningen where I worked three years as a post-doc on the microbial ecology of deep hypersaline anoxic basins in the Mediterranean Sea. As these environment are very exotic, this research made my a bit famous as the results appeared in Science and Nature.
Despite this success I decided in 2004 to switch from the university to the applied research institute Kiwa Water Research. I made this switch because I missed that the research I performed did not result in any applications. Kiwa Water Research is a research institute owned by the drinking water companies in the Netherlands and most of the research thus focuses on drinking water microbiology. The first four to five years I worked under Dr. Gerjan Medema, focusing on the removal of fecal pathogens in the sources (groundwater or surface water) used for drinking water.
In 2008/2009 I decided to switch within the microbial water quality and health group at Kiwa Water Research and turn my focus to microorganisms capable of growing in the drinking water environment. This work was done under the inspiring leadership of Prof. Dr. Dick van der Kooij. After the retirement of Dick van der Kooij in 2012 I took over his position within the group at KWR Watercycle Research Institute (the name of the institute has changed around the same time).
Since 2012 I have focused the research on friend or foe of water quality in man-made water systems. The ‘friends’ part refers to microorganisms that can be used during e.g. water treatment to improve water quality by removing undesired compounds, whereas the ‘foe’ part refers to growth of (opportunistic) pathogens in man-made water systems that pose a threat to public health.
Nowadays, the work is mainly done at KWR Water Research Institute, but since 2016 I also have a position within the Molecular Ecology group of the Laboratory of Microbiology department at the Wageningen University. At the university I try to deepen the research on microbial ecology of man-made water systems together with PhD and/or master students.