VIDI grants for Delft PIs Aubin-Tam, Laan and Taminiau (TU Delft/TNW)


(By: TU Delft/TNW) NWO has awarded 3 experienced researchers from TU Delft/TNW with a VIDI grant worth 800,000 euros. The grant enables them to develop their own innovative line of research and set up their own research group.

Marie-Eve Aubin-Tam (TNW): Getting a hold on proteins translocation

The threading of proteins through narrow channels is a crucial biochemical process, which is essential for cellular protein trafficking and protein degradation. Such translocation is also used by pathogens, which inject their lethal toxins through the cell membrane (the motor proteins driving this translocation process are called protein translocases). The underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood.

In the past Aubin-Tan demonstrated the unique capabilities of optical tweezers to reveal information on protein remodelling while being translocated by a soluble translocase. If one could, similarly, use an optical tweezers to hold a protein while being translocated by a membrane translocase, it would contribute tremendously to our understanding of the inner workings of these machines.

Liedewij Laan (TNW): Dissecting biochemical network structures which facilitate evolution

How organisms evolve is a large unanswered question, while the answer is essential to understand evolutionary processes such as cancer progression. The researchers will investigate how evolutionary processes are affected by the protein networks, which make up an organism.

How organisms evolve is a fundamental question with implications for human health. Laan  wants to mechanistically understand how biochemical networks, which make up an organism, reorganize during evolution, without compromising fitness. In vivo, all biochemical networks are connected, which complicates the study of finding out how, or simply, for which biochemical network, mutations are adaptive.

Therefore, Laan will isolate one biochemical network by building an in vitro model system. With this system she will identify basic network structures, which allow network evolution without loss of function. In parallel she will test these mechanisms in vivo. The focus will be on symmetry breaking in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. 

Tim Taminiau (TNW): Fault-tolerant protection of quantum states

Quantum mechanical states enable a powerful and fundamentally new way to process information. However, quantum states are fragile and errors due to decoherence inevitably occur. Without a way to detect and correct these errors, large-scale quantum information processing is impossible.

The theory of quantum error correction predicts that quantum states can be protected, in principle, indefinitely. The key idea is fault tolerance: by encoding quantum states in multiple entangled qubits and actively correcting errors through careful measurements, the system can recover from any error affecting a single qubit. Whether this is possible in actual physical systems remains an open fundamental question.

Taminiau proposes a research program with the overarching goal to demonstrate active fault tolerant protection of quantum states based on nine nuclear spins in diamond at cryogenic temperatures. This goal is now within reach due to two recent advances by his team:  a novel method to control multiple nuclear spins and non-destructive measurements and real-time feedback that enable the correction of errors.