DistinctionInternational Distinction for Heidelberg Early-Career Researcher

14 December 2022

Ioannis Sarropoulos receives Birnstiel Award for his research on non-coding genomic sequences in mammals

Ioannis Sarropoulos, a doctoral candidate at Ruperto Carola, has been presented with the International Birnstiel Award for Doctoral Research in Molecular Life Sciences 2022 for his studies on non-coding genomic sequences in mammals. The prize, advertised internationally, is intended for young researchers at an advanced stage of their doctoral work who have already made a substantial contribution to research in their specific discipline. The Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna (Austria) and the Max Birnstiel Foundation grant the award, worth 2,000 euros, to up to six outstanding doctoral candidates every year. Ioannis Sarropoulos is a member of Prof. Dr Henrik Kaessmann’s research group at the Center for Molecular Biology of Heidelberg University, which investigates the molecular and cellular origins and evolution of mammals and vertebrate organs.

Porträt Ioannis Sarropoulos

Only about one to two percent of a typical mammalian genome consists of DNA containing the blueprint for generating proteins. Hence, by far the greater part are non-coding elements, Ioannis Sarropoulos explains. However, most of them have remained poorly studied, leaving their functional relevance unclear. During his doctoral research, Ioannis Sarropoulos has aimed to unravel what contributions non-coding elements make to the development and evolution of different organs and cell types. To find out, he focused on screening large-scale transcriptomics and epigenetics datasets for non-coding genomic sequences, which he was able to link to specific genes and cellular developmental processes. Ioannis Sarropoulos showed that non-coding elements that are active earlier in organ development have changed less in the course of evolution. He further examined the development of brain cells in mice and other mammals. In doing so, he also identified differences in the degree of evolutionary change of non-coding elements across cell types.

Ioannis Sarropoulos studied biology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. He then moved to Ruperto Carola, where he completed a master’s programme in Molecular Biosciences in 2015. The Birnstiel Award was established in 2019 in memory of molecular biologist Max Luciano Birnstiel (1933-2014), who was the founding director of the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology. The award ceremony this year took place on 1 December 2022 in Vienna.