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ERC awards starting grants to three up-and-coming research leaders

Three up-and-coming research leaders have been awarded Starting Grants from the European Research Council (ERC) aimed at people just like them, and who are about to establish a proper research team and start conducting independent research in Europe. The scheme targets promi...

Three up-and-coming research leaders have been awarded Starting Grants from the European Research Council (ERC) aimed at people just like them, and who are about to establish a proper research team and start conducting independent research in Europe. The scheme targets promising researchers who have the potential of becoming independent research leaders. The scientists, Fulvia Bono, research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, and Wolfram Antonin and Michael Hothorn, both Max Planck research group leaders at the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory in Tübingen, Germany will each receive up to EUR 1.5 million over the next 5 years to implement their project ideas, which were evaluated as scientifically excellent. The ERC Starting Grants aim to support up-and-coming research leaders at an early stage of their career as they conduct independent research in Europe. According to statistics from the ERC, EUR 800 million will be spent this year to award Starting Grants to 536 researchers in Europe. From across Europe, 4 741 scientists applied for the highly funded grants that are awarded for scientifically excellent research proposals. ERC Starting Grants represent a personal distinction for the individual scientist and provide funding for up to 5 years. Since 2011, Fulvia Bono has been leading an independent research group at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology where she investigates the role of the intracellular transport of macromolecules in the regulation of gene expression. Now, thanks to funding from the ERC Starting Grant, she will be able to extend her research to include the study of the crucial role that the correct messenger RNA (mRNA) localisation in the cell cytoplasm plays during animal development, in the maintenance of cell polarity and in nervous system function. mRNA is combined with certain proteins to form particles, the so-called mRNP complexes. In the fruit fly Drosophila, the localisation of these complexes determines the formation of the embryo's body axis. Fulvia Bono wants to understand the function of the mRNP systems at a mechanistic level and gain deeper insight into the connection between genes and outer appearance of organisms. With the ERC Grant she will recruit several new members for her research group. 'With the expanded resources of the ERC grant, I can accept some more scientific challenges I could not have thought of otherwise,' she says. Fulvia Bono initially received her PhD from the University of Pavia in 2000 and continued her research at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg for five years. From 2008 to 2011, she was a project leader at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology. Wolfram Antonin has been a Max Planck research group leader at the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory since 2006. His main research topic is the breakdown of the nuclear envelope, which separates the nucleus with the DNA from cell cytoplasm, in the process of cell division and its reassembly after formation of the daughter cells. With the ERC Starting Grant he will be able to start an additional project with several new team members and pursue his interest in DNA decondensation. Wolfram Antonin had noticed that while the packing of the DNA is a well studied process, little is known of DNA decondensation. 'It is possible,' he says, 'that DNA decondensation is a passive process, as if a clip around the DNA thread is released and the DNA just relaxes.' However, initial experiments hint at an active process. Wolfram Antonin wants to investigate this process and the proteins involved. 'This is a high-risk research project, since we cannot say anything about the outcome. This is special about the ERC grants, that the sponsor trusts the skills of the scientists themselves and funds promising project ideas,' he notes. Michael Hothorn has been building up his Max Planck research group at the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory since the beginning of 2012 where he focuses on structural plant biology and signalling pathways in plant cells in particular. With the funding from the ERC Starting Grant he will be able to start an additional project on the search for the enzyme responsible for the assembly of phosphate polymers in plant cells. The corresponding enzyme in bacteria has been known for a long time, yet it does not exist in the cells of higher organised organisms, like plants or mammals. 'The function of the phosphate polymers is enigmatic,' Michael Hothorn explains. 'It has been suggested that they are used to store phosphate in plant cells and tissues.' The project may, in the future, have applications in crop science as, at present, many crop species require the application of phosphate fertilisers. 'Without the ERC Grant, I could not afford a project of this size and kind. The sparse results from our first experiments would not have been sufficient for the usual ways of obtaining research funding. The prospect of our high-risk project is to find out something fundamentally new, yet the risk is to receive detached data we are not able to connect,' he comments. After obtaining his PhD at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg in 2006, Michael Hothorn carried out research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla before joining the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory in 2011.For more information, please visit:European Research Council Starting Grants:http://erc.europa.eu/starting-grantsMax Planck Institute for Developmental Biology:http://eb.mpg.de/

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