top of page

Best friends forever: understanding the nature of cooperation


Life on Earth would be unthinkable without cooperation: the cells making up our bodies and those of other animals and plants work together, we ourselves often work together in teams, just like ants do in colonies or plants do with their pollinators. We even work together with our microbiome: the bacteria in our gut. Yet, the evolution of cooperation has mystified scientists for over a century and here we’ll hear why this remained such a burning question for so long and how we are now starting to answer it.



Tit-for-tat: how we work together with the bacteria in our body


At least half of the cells in our bodies are actually bacteria. For the most part that’s a good thing: we provide these bacteria with ‘room and board’ and in turn they help us digest our food and fight off germs. In fact, with recent technological developments it is now becoming evident that our bodies likely would not be able to function without our microbiome. This lecture will guide you through the wealth of recent findings, showing how these bacteria may hold secrets to a healthy and happy life.


Improv(e) your science communication

Do you want to hone your presentation skills? Do you want to be able to explain your science to both experts and a lay audience? Do you want to get a grip on those nerves you feel in front of an audience? And do you want to learn all this while having a lot of fun? This workshop is the place for you! During the workshop, we will use techniques from improvisation theater and storytelling to improve your science communication. From lab meetings and conference talks to elevator pitches and answering that tricky question at a party (So… ‘what do you do?’), these skills will come in handy every day, both in the lab and away from the bench.


Workshops available: Level 1, 2 and 0 (a theoretical intro to improv for communication)

CONTACT Aniek for more information


Mutualism – cooperation between species

Mutualism, cooperation between different species, is ubiquitous to nature and considered to be of major importance to complex life. Mutually beneficial interactions range from ancient endosymbionts that evolved into organelles such as mitochondria and plasmids to pollination networks that help stabilizing ecosystems. The emergence and evolutionary stability of mutualisms, however, remain poorly understood. How can species evolve to invest into costly helping of other species, whereas the benefits could also be reaped for free by exploiting the other species as a parasite? In this session, we will explore theoretical and empirical advances in our understanding of mutualism. Particular focus will lie on mechanisms that might both promote the evolution and the subsequent maintenance of cooperation between species, in the light of potential conflict between the mutualistic partners. Examples of such mechanisms are partner choice, partner fidelity and punishment strategies.


Ants and aphids: Best friends forever?

Some ants farm aphids inside their nests. The ants protect the aphids from predators and parasites and in return, the aphids provide the ants with food in the form of sugary drops of honeydew. How such cooperation between two different animals could come about and persist over time are some of the largest questions in biology. In this lecture, we’ll explore how ants and aphids managed to become friends and stay friends for over 20 million years.




Anchor 1


Dr. Aniek Discovers

Science meets Improv. A trained biologist, Dr. Aniek will guide you through the life of an novel organism, leaving you to wonder what is fact and what is fiction. 


Anchor 2

Mieren als ondergrondse veehouders: een modelsysteem voor mutualisme


In de natuur komt het veelvuldig voor dat verschillende organismen met elkaar samenwerken. Dit zogeheten mutualisme speelt zelfs een grote rol in ons dagelijks leven, omdat het van invloed is op onze gezondheid (via bijvoorbeeld de relatie tussen ons en onze darmflora), onze landbouw (waar bijvoorbeeld bacteriën stikstof fixeren voor gewassen) en de stabiliteit van onze ecosystemen (bijvoorbeeld via plant-bestuiver relaties).

Ondanks de wijdverbreidheid van dit fenomeen, stellen de ecologie en evolutie van mutualisme wetenschappers al decennia lang voor een raadsel. Hoe kunnen evolutionaire processen leiden tot samenwerking tussen verschillende soorten, terwijl evolutie normaal gesproken door competitie tussen en binnen soorten gedreven wordt? Over de hele wereld pogen wetenschappers deze vraag te beantwoorden, gebruikmakend van een scala aan methoden, van computermodellen tot veldwerk en genetisch onderzoek aan bekende mutualismen.

Centraal in deze lezing staat zo’n schoolvoorbeeld van mutualisme: ondergrondse mieren die bladluizen houden in hun nest als hun ‘vee’. Deze samenwerking bestaat uit het uitwisselen van voedsel (de honingdauw gemaakt door luizen) en diensten (bescherming en hygiëne door de mieren). Door de biologie van dit mutualisme in Europa en Noord-Amerika in kaart te brengen, hopen we een tipje van de sluier van het ontstaan van mutualisme op te lichten. En wie weet leren we ook nog wel wat wijze lessen van deze 20 miljoen jaar oude vorm van niet-menselijke veehouderij.


FOR GENERAL AUDIENCE [also available in English]

Anchor 3
Anchor 4
bottom of page