September 6, 2017

Three FMI group leaders awarded prestigious European Research Council Grant

Franziska Bleichert, Luca Giorgetti and Prisca Liberali, three junior group leaders at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research (FMI) in Basel, are among this year's recipients of a prestigious ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). They bring to the FMI three of the five ERC Starting Grants awarded to Switzerland for Life Sciences. Susan Gasser, FMI Director, comments: "This is a fantastic testimony to our ability to stay at the forefront of science in many fields - but given that all three of these are in our new Quantitative biology focus, it's also a sign that our strategy is on the right track."

For talented young scientists
"ERC Starting Grants" are awarded to talented early-stage scientists who have already produced excellent supervised work, are ready to work independently and show potential to be research leaders. In this round of evaluations, 406 young European researchers have received funding in the Life Sciences, with a success rate of 13%. The awardees this year include three group leaders from the FMI in Basel.

The ERC supports Franziska Bleichert’s research team, which aims to elucidate how origins of DNA replication are specified in higher eukaryotes and how chromatin context and DNA structure surrounding origins influence and regulate the onset of DNA replication. The group’s approach will incorporate biochemical, structural and cell-based methods to understand the underlying mechanisms at the molecular level. “This project is also biomedically relevant because the failure to replicate DNA precisely can lead to genetic instability and, as a consequence, cancer or certain developmental diseases,” explains Bleichert.
» More on Franziska Bleichert

Luca Giorgetti and his group at the FMI are interested in the DNA elements that are located far away from the genes they control, so called enhancer regions. “It is fascinating to see how these regulators can act specifically on one or just a couple of genes on such long ranges, despite the large intervening stretches of genomic sequences separating them,” explains Giorgetti. Giorgetti wants to analyze how the three-dimensional shape of chromosomes facilitates the preferential physical interactions of enhancers and genes.
» More on Luca Giorgetti

Prisca Liberali and her team study the processes that lead to the establishment of the different cell types in an organ. For her studies, she works with intestinal organoids. “In this system a fraction of cells acquires a specific cell fate even though all cells are exposed to a uniform environment,” said Liberali, “As a result, asymmetric structures such as the crypts and the villi of an intestine arise.” She and her team use advanced multiplex imaging to monitor the behavior of each cell. Based on this date, they aim to create mathematical models of symmetry breaking and patterning.
» More on Prisca Liberali

The success rate for FMI researchers is impressive: Since the launch of the ERC program 10 years ago, 22 grants have been awarded to FMI researchers at different stages of their career. "For a small institute such as the FMI, this is extraordinary and an impressive example of the exceptionally high-quality research carried out in our institute," said Susan Gasser. "It shows the extent to which FMI is respected in the global research community."

» Media release of the European Research Council
» More about the ERC Starting Grants