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Interview with Tim Möhlmann

In May, 32-year-old Tim Möhlmann won the inaugural Young NCOH with his presentation on ‘Why Midges Matter’. He’s currently rounding off his PhD at Wageningen University (Laboratory of Entomology) on the same topic. It’s clearly a passion, but why exactly are midges so important to him? And why on earth does he sell ants in his spare time? It’s about time we did some exploratory research into this PhD candidate.

Your presentation at the NCOH Annual Scientific Meeting was titled ‘Why Midges Matter’. So, why do they matter?

“I’ve been carrying out research for some time into midges and mosquitoes and how they transmit certain viruses. Midges are important vectors of diseases such as bluetongue and Schmallenberg. These animal diseases have a major impact on livestock populations in Europe. My research is focused on the influence of bacteria in the midge’s digestive system.”

Can you tell us more about that influence?

“Midges become infected with a virus after consuming infectious blood from an animal. Our research has shown that using certain antibiotics to change the midge’s microbiome makes infection more likely. This in turn increases the likelihood of spreading the disease.”

Are there any significant large-scale conclusions to be drawn from your research results at this stage?

“Not yet. Our research into midges was in a laboratory setting. But in the field, midges appear to have a different type of microbiome. This could make a real difference to the way that an antibiotic influences viral infection. So we need to look at that much more carefully.“

Is that your next step?

“Actually, I don’t think so. Once I’ve achieved my doctorate I’ll probably go down a different path. Academia is a precarious place for employment, and this is also a particularly small field in the Netherlands. So I’m looking at career opportunities in the private sector or at a research institute. My studies were fascinating, but it’s fun to have a new challenge too.”

Why did your topic intrigue you so much?

Research into the interaction between viruses, vectors and bacteria can reveal important information about the spread of viral diseases. It’s interesting from a One Health perspective too: Schmallenberg and bluetongue occur all over Europe, and they have an impact on animal welfare and our food supply. So the research is important to other countries too.

You won the YOUNG NCOH in May. Was that because of the topic?

“I assume so. The research results are of course very interesting. But my style of presentation probably also played a part. I always put a lot of time into that, and try to make it as interesting and fun as possible for the audience. I’ve had a lot of experience of doing that, because I often give lectures on ants (video in Dutch).”

Do you do research into ants too?

“Well no, but I have a small business alongside my research work at Wageningen University, selling ants as pets.”

Are there really people who want to keep ants as pets?

“You’d be surprised! But then, ants really are interesting. You can buy a small colony, which comes with a queen. You can then watch it expand into a big ant society with its own structure. It’s really fascinating.”

Were there any other presentations at Young NCOH that made an impression on you?

“There were lots of interesting presentations. The one that left a lasting impression was about the impacts of a viral infection in pregnant sheep. They thoroughly researched how the virus affects the organs and the impact that has on the foetus. I found that really interesting, because of course my focus is on the transmission of the virus. This presentation showed me the other end of the spectrum: the impact of the infection.”

Will you take part in YOUNG NCOH next year?

“That depends. I assume I’ll have completed my PhD by then and will be working somewhere else. I don’t think I’ll still be eligible to take part then. Young NCOH is aimed primarily at PhD candidates.”

Why is Young NCOH important, and why should students participate in it?

“It’s important to share your research results. Not just by publishing, but also by sharing your expertise with colleagues and with specialists in related fields. A platform like Young NCOH serves that purpose really well. There’s also the added value of keeping you up to date on what else is going on. Not just within your own research area, but in others too. It’s really inspiring.”

We’re going to work on developing Young NCOH further in the future. As the first winner, would you like to be part of that?

“Just give me a call!”