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While women inherit two X chromosomes, the expressions of one of them is shut down during embryonic development. Men have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. The switching off of women’s second X chromosome is thought to compensate for the presence of only one X in males versus two in females, to balance for X-linked gene products between the sexes. X-chromosome inactivation is also one of the clearest examples of what epigenetic mechanisms do to our genetic material: the DNA of the genes on the X is still present but not actively expressed or needed. Prof. Edith Heard was awarded ERC grants to understand the intricate processes behind the phenomenon, with unexpected results that changed the way gene regulation is now looked at.
Solar power is potentially an almost limitless resource. The sun provides enough energy in one minute to supply the world’s energy needs for one year. But turning this resource into affordable electricity is difficult – silicon-based solar cells still suffer from a decline in their effectiveness over time. Through her ERC-funded SOLARX project, Professor Hele Savin, of Aalto University in Finland, is investigating a possible route to solving this problem.