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Professor Peijun Zhang, Director of the Electron Bio-Imaging Centre (eBIC) at Diamond, and her team have won one of only 209 Advanced Grants across multiple disciplines that the European Research Council (ERC) has announced today (22 April 2021). The funding, worth in total €507 million, is being awarded to 209 leading researchers across Europe over five years.
The ERC Advanced Grants back pioneering work by outstanding researchers throughout Europe on the basis that their research has the potential to make a difference in people’s everyday life and deliver solutions to some of the world’s most urgent challenges by triggering breakthroughs and major scientific advances. This year’s grant recipients work includes providing new insights into the links between obesity and pancreatic cancer, threats from wildlife viruses, brain-inspired neural network computer chips, to new ways for architects to design the buildings of the future.
ERC President Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, said:
For this last ERC call under Horizon 2020, over 200 researchers will be funded to follow their scientific instinct and dreams. The great increase in demand led to a very fierce competition: only 8% of candidates were successful. Many outstanding researchers with innovative ideas passed the excellence threshold, but were left unfunded due to budget constraints. We look forward to seeing what major insights and breakthroughs will spring from this investment and trust.
Professor Zhang’s grant is to investigate Chemotaxis which have served as the definitive model for the study of cellular process by which a biological cell converts one kind of signal or stimulus into another (sensory signal transduction) and its motile behaviour for nearly 60 years. The relatively simple chemotaxis machinery of E. coli is the best understood signal transduction system and serves as a powerful tool for investigating the molecular mechanisms that proteins use to detect, process, and transmit signals. The sensory apparatus of E. coli cells is an ordered array of hundreds of basic core signalling units consisting of three essential core components, the transmembrane chemoreceptors, the histidine kinase, and the adaptor protein. The core units further assemble into a two-dimensional lattice array which allows cells to amplify and integrate many varied and possibly conflicting signals to locate optimal growing conditions. More recently, chemical robots that use artificial chemotaxis to navigate autonomously have been designed for targeted delivery of drugs in the body.
Professor Zhang, explains:
To understand the underlying molecular mechanisms of chemosensory array assembly, activation and high cooperativity, it is essential to determine the precise interactions between the core signalling components in the context of the array. We propose to use a combination of cutting-edge cryoET structural methods at Diamond’s eBIC and multi-scale molecular simulations, as well as in vivo functional assays, to investigate the structural and dynamical mechanisms underlying signal transduction and regulation.
The research aims to determine the precise molecular mechanisms of chemotaxis cooperative signalling using high-resolution cryoEM and cryoET in combination with site-directed mutagenesis and computational modelling. The team’s long-term goal is to develop molecular models, at atomic resolution, for the entire signalling pathway by assembling structural “snapshots” of the signalling states.
Professor Zhang, added:
This is going to be an amazing challenge and we are all excited about the advances this grant will enable us to make. Our results will establish, in atomistic detail, the chemotaxis signalling pathway that is shared by diverse chemotactic species, including a wide range of human and plant pathogens. This will have a huge impact on multiple disciplines, from antimicrobial drug development to understanding responses to hormones and neurotransmitters in eukaryotic cells.
ERC competitions are open to researchers of any nationality and, in this round, scientists and scholars of 25 nationalities received funding. In this call, 2 678 applicants submitted their proposals in all fields of research. Female researchers submitted 22% of proposals and 23% of grants were awarded to women. Since the start of the Horizon Europe programme, the share of women among researchers awarded Advanced Grants has been steadily increasing from around 10% in 2014 to more than 22% in 2020.
Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said:
The awarding of more than 200 ERC Advanced Grants in key scientific areas will help boost our scientific research and innovation capacity, for the benefit of all EU citizens. We will be able to continue and reinforce investments with the forthcoming Horizon Europe ERC work programmes. I am also pleased to see more women applying for these prestigious grants and winning them.
The ERC Advanced Grants support excellent Principal Investigators at the career stage at which they are already established research leaders with a recognised track record of research achievements. They must demonstrate the ground-breaking nature, ambition and feasibility of their scientific proposal as the grants allow them to execute their best ideas at the scientific frontiers. In addition to strengthening Europe’s knowledge base, the new ERC research projects will also lead to the creation of some 1 900 new jobs for post-doctoral fellows, PhD students and other research staff. The future grantees will carry out their projects at universities and research centres across 14 EU Member States and associated countries with the UK (51 grants), Germany (40), France (22) and Netherlands (17) hosting the highest number of grants.
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