Major European grants for four UofG researchers

Four researchers from the University of Glasgow have received frontier research funding grants from the European Research Council.

They are among the more than 300 academics from across Europe awarded European Research Council Consolidator Grants today (Wednesday 9 December 2020), representing a total investment of €655 million.

The ERC Consolidator Grants are awarded to outstanding researchers of any nationality and age, with at least seven and up to 12 years of post-PhD research experience.

The funding is provided for up to five years and mostly covers the employment of researchers and other staff to consolidate the grantees’ teams. The four awards will bring in a total of €8.4 million to the University.

The University of Glasgow’s four grant recipients are drawn from across the Colleges of Science and Engineering and Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences.

Dr Alfredo Castello, of the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, will develop his -RNP-capture- project, which aims to discover the landscape of cellular RNA-binding proteins that regulate the life cycle of RNA viruses. The project will apply a new approach to cells infected with a broad range of viruses to identify the complement of cellular proteins that interact with viral RNA on a global scale.

He will test which of these proteins regulate infection by applying a novel screening strategy with fluorescent viruses, and aim to understand the molecular mechanisms underpinning the regulatory mechanisms of these proteins in infection. The project will discover a new universe of host-virus interactions with potential for the development of broad-spectrum antiviral therapies.

Dr Castello’s grant application was submitted while he was working at the University of Oxford before moving to join the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research.

Dr Amalio Fernandez-Pacheco, of the School of Physics and Astronomy, will develop his 3DNANOMAG project. Three-dimensional nanomagnets, with unconventional spin and topological properties, are very promising systems for the future development of greener, more capable, multi-functional technologies.
However, the significant experimental challenges associated with the fabrication and probing of 3D nanoscale geometries and spin configurations have restricted most studies to date in this field to either computational and theoretical works, or experiments in simple 3D geometries that do not fully exploit the potential of moving to three dimensions.

The 3DNANOMAG project will carry out the first experimental investigations in ultra-advanced nanomagnetic systems with a variety of complex 3D geometries and magnetic materials, combining nanofabrication, optical and electron microscopy techniques. Ultimately, the project aims to improve the energy efficiency and the amount of data that can be stored in computers and devices.

Dr Jesko Koehnke, of the School of Chemistry, will, through his project EXPLORE, aim to better harness natural products for drug discovery.

Human society is in constant need for medicines - in order to win the arms race with emerging superbugs, for example. A large proportion of currently approved drugs are natural products. In fact, in the important fields of cancer and anti-infectives, almost 75% of all drugs on the market are natural products or derivatives thereof. Yet natural products are at risk of being underutilized in drug-discovery efforts because their supply and/or the production of derivatives is frequently very challenging.

The EXPLORE project seeks to develop and establish a technology that would allow the combinatorial biosynthesis of peptide-inspired neo-natural product libraries for drug discovery.

Professor Michael Wemyss, of the School of Mathematics and Statistics, will use his award to advancehow noncommutative algebra controls and classifies some of the most fundamental structures in geometry.

-MMP and Mirrors via Maximal Modification Algebras’, or MMiMMa, will use and create sophisticated new mathematical techniques to demonstrate that, much like in quantum mechanics, order matters, and noncommutative structures are intertwined with nature and geometry at a very fundamental level.

Professor Chris Pearce, Vice-Principal for Research at the University of Glasgow, said: -I-d like to offer my warmest congratulations to each of the Glasgow colleagues who will be benefiting from this support from the ERC. These four Consolidator Grants represent very different fields of science and exemplify the kind of high-quality research that we value and encourage at the University of Glasgow. It-s fantastic that these grants will not just advance the work of the four talented researchers who have received them but also allow them to bolster their existing teams and create careers for promising new scientists.-

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: -Congratulations to all this year’s ERC Consolidator Grant laureates - all selected solely based on excellence. While there is still progress to be made worldwide in achieving gender balance, I am pleased to note that there is an upward trend in women applying for this ERC scheme. We can also see that in this ERC competition the proportion of female applicants who were successful is the highest ever achieved - higher than that of male applicants.-

ERC President Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon commented: -This funding not only empowers bright minds from across Europe to pursue their most ambitious ideas at a critical stage of their careers, but also helps train the youngest generation of researchers as members of their ERC teams. To prepare for the challenges of tomorrow, Europe must stick to the vision of investing in frontier research, which has proved time and again its crucial added value. That is why so many count on Europe’s leaders to endow the -Excellent Science- pillar of Horizon Europe with the resources essential to strengthen Europe as a whole.-