ERC Synergy Grants for Universität Heidelberg Researchers
24 October 2018
Scientists of Heidelberg University are key participants in two research teams, each of which has obtained an ERC Synergy Grant, a highly-endowed grant from the European Research Council. In the DECODE project, Prof. Dr Jan Lohmann and colleagues at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg are attempting to unveil the genetic underpinnings of tissue development. The IndiGene project explores the genetics of individuality that lead to different phenotypes in organisms. Prof. Dr Joachim Wittbrodt is working with researchers from the European Bioinformatics Institute at the EMBL on the study. The two projects will receive a total of approximately 16.9 million euros in funding.
The “Decoding Context-Dependent Genetic Networks in vivo” (DECODE) project examines the question of which genes or gene combinations contribute to tissue function and development and how this repertoire changes from cell to cell as well as under different environmental conditions. The researchers will study two of the most important model systems in the life sciences, the roots of the mouse-ear cress Arabidopsis and the gut of the fruit fly Drosophila. Using CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, the scientists will disable specific genes in a time-controlled fashion and study the resulting defects. The resulting data will then be fed into computer models to reconstruct the functional genetic networks at the cellular level. Genes that assume key positions in these networks will then be analysed functionally using state-of-the-art methods. The aim is to gain new insights into the function and interaction of cells in complex tissues. Jan Lohmann directs the Stem Cell Biology Research Group at the Centre for Organismal Studies of Heidelberg University. Members of the DECODE team include Prof. Lohmann and Prof. Dr Michael Boutros (DKFZ/Heidelberg University), Dr Wolfgang Huber (EMBL) and Dr Oliver Stegle (EMBL/DKFZ). Funding of approximately 10.6 million euros is available for the project.
The “Genetics of Individuality” (IndiGene) project aims to study and characterise at various levels the origins of variation that contribute to different phenotypes and thus to individuality in complex vertebrates. The researchers also want to study the role played by the environment and chance as well as the degree to which this is anchored via genetic mechanisms. The research, which will be conducted in a comprehensive twin study on the Medaka fish model organism, will include an examination of genetic, ecological and stochastic factors. Members of the IndiGene team include Prof. Wittbrodt, who directs the Animal Physiology / Developmental Biology Research Group at the Centre for Organismal Studies, and Prof. Dr Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI-EMBL) in Cambridge (Great Britain). The project is being conducted within the framework of HEiKA, the Heidelberg Karlsruhe Strategic Partnership between Heidelberg University and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), together with researchers from the KIT. It is funded with approximately 6.3 million euros.
ERC Synergy Grants are used to fund forward-looking research projects that are too complex for individual researchers and their groups to tackle individually. The European Research Council funds such projects for up to ten million euros over a maximum six-year period.