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Nynke Dekker has been a Full Professor (chair of “Single molecule nanoscale biophysics”) in the Faculty of Applied Science since 2008. She graduated with a BSc cum Laude from Yale (with majors in both physics and in applied mathematics), an MSc cum laude in physics from Leiden University, and a prestigious PhD in physics from Harvard University. This was followed by a postdoctoral period at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris in which she transitioned into biological physics. She then became faculty at TU Delft (2002), where she rapidly rose from Assistant Professor to Full Professor.
Probing biological function at the level of single molecules
Prof. Dekker has contributed seminal advances at the top of her field of biological physics. Her research focuses on fundamental biological topics such as transcription, replication, and topology that have also a strong link to biomedical research. In order to understand these critical biological processes, she quantitatively probes the dynamics of single molecules of DNA, enzymes, and molecular motors, thus generating a precise and mechanistic biophysical perspective. Her successful research efforts have included real-time studies of processive molecular motors (e.g. polymerases) on DNA and RNA, experiments that probe the mechanisms of DNA-binding proteins involved in DNA compaction (e.g. nucleosomes, tetrasomes) and the termination of replication, and ground-breaking experiments on the understanding of chemotherapeutic inhibitors in clinical use, thus uncovering a new mechanism through which they influence the activity of topoisomerase enzymes. Her research at the single-molecule level was also extended to the context of live bacterial cells, which places her research group in the unique position of being able to quantitatively compare the behavior of individual biological molecules both in vitro and in vivo.
In recent years, Prof. Dekker has concentrated her research efforts in the study of the dynamics of the complete eukaryotic replication fork at the single-molecule level. This builds on the ability of many biochemists, which culminated in the reconstitution of the eukaryotic replication fork in bulk in 2015. Since then, her group has been able to purify all the proteins involved in yeast replication and studies the loading and activation of the yeast replisome using high-end single-molecule equipment. Understanding the mechanisms that underlie eukaryotic replication provides a key that will link to our understanding of disease development such as genetic disorders and cancer.
Developing instrumentation to probe single molecules
Nynke Dekker’s laboratory has played a major role in technique development in the field of single molecules. Single-molecule optical techniques were pioneered by others several decades ago, but as their ability to quantitatively probe the dynamics of individual biological molecules became evident, it was necessary to further expand the range of technical capabilities in order to answer more profound biological questions. Nynke Dekker has played a key role in e.g. the development of magnetic tweezers technology for the probing of individual biological molecules, as witnessed by her numerous publications on this topic (exceeding ten in total), for example, her development of novel single-molecule techniques suited to high-resolution measurement (2015), high-throughput studies (2014), or the measurement of molecular torque and twist (2010, 2011, 2012) being the most notable. It is her ability to develop novel and insightful methodological advances in this manner that makes it possible for her to discover the kinetic details of enzymatic activity at the single-molecule level. Coupled with the cutting-edge biological knowledge that she is acquired during her sabbatical stay at the Francis Crick Institute in 2015-2016, this provides her with key technology to allow her to explore the biomedically relevant field of eukaryotic replication.
- In 2023, Prof. Dekker was awarded the Physica Prize by the Stichting Physica, supported by the Nederlandse Natuurkundige Vereniging (NNV).
- In 2020, Prof. Dekker was awarded the Spinoza Prize by The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).
- In 2020, she was elected as a member of the Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities (KHMW).
- In 2019, Prof. Dekker was elected as a member of the prestigious organization European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO).
- In 2015, she was inaugurated as a member of the Netherlands Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).
- Prof. Dekker is co-organizer of the series of Single Molecule Biophysics meetings in held in Europe (Les Houches, France). The first two meetings took place in February 2020 and February 2022, respectively; the third meeting will be held in late January-early February of 2024.
- Prof. Dekker is co-organizer of the Dutch Replication Meeting (2018).
- Prof. Dekker has also been a member of the Council of Professors of the TU Delft, which advises the board of the university concerning professorial appointments and other matters.
- Prof. Dekker has also served as Vice-Chair of the Executive Board of the Foundation for Research on Matter (FOM). Until the start of 2017, FOM, was the principal funder of physics research in The Netherlands. Since then, the foundation has become part of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).
- Prof. Dekker is a co-founder of the Department of Bionanoscience (2010).