DNA could rightly be called the molecule of life. It ensures that all processes in our body function properly. We have a lot of it: every microscopic cell in the human body contains as much as two metres of DNA. And if you could put the DNA of all the cells of one human being in a line, such a line would stretch back and forth to the moon 50,000 times. But DNA is vulnerable: it is, merely through breathing, almost continually being damaged.
In short, keeping all our DNA in good shape is an enormous challenge, and yet it is very important to do so because cells with damaged DNA can mutate and, may for example, develop into tumours. Fortunately, every cell also has all kinds of DNA damage repair mechanisms. For decades the Guardians and Caretakers of the Genome research team at the Erasmus MC in Rotterdam has been focusing on how exactly cells do in fact repair themselves.
“They who have youth, have the future”, is a well-known Dutch saying. The fact that this statement is now more relevant than ever is seen in the crucial challenges facing the next generation: from climate change to an increasingly diverse society in which opinions are often extremely divided. An important issue for the future is how to promote and maintain social cohesion in a society where individualism and discrimination seem to be increasingly relentlessly?
In other words: how do we ensure an inclusive society? One thing is clear: we need to understand how people interact with each other and above all what motivates them to make choices in their social interactions that are positive for themselves and others as well as for future generations and the natural world. This is what the nine-member team Social Educational Neuroscience Amsterdam (SENSA) at the VU University in Amsterdam is working on.