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CRISPR is a widely used molecular biology tool exploiting an immune process discovered in bacteria. Dr David Bikard studies CRISPR in bacterial cells, in conjunction with different DNA repair systems, to create even newer tools. He hopes to gain insight into bacterial genetics, and develop increasingly effective medical treatments.
Through her work with the fruit fly Drosophila santomea, Dr Virginie Orgogozo aims to answer one of the most challenging questions of modern evolutionary biology: how do observable characteristics change between species and yet remain stable in a given species?
With her degree in biology, Dr Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla left Mexico and embarked on an international career in epigenetics. She completed her PhD at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and then moved to Cambridge University. In 2006 she joined IGBMC in Strasbourg working as a group leader. She has just been appointed Director of the Institute of Epigenetics and Stem Cells of the Helmholtz Zentrum in Munich. Supported by an ERC grant, she studies the mechanisms controlling embryonic cellular plasticity with the aim of shedding new light on today's fertility issues. In this interview she shares her story as a non-European scientist in Europe.
In 2012, 2.8 million people in the EU were diagnosed with cancer. It is the second most common cause of death in the Union – three out of 10 deaths for men, and two out of 10 deaths for women – a figure that is expected to rise due to the ageing European population. Dr Danijela Matic Vignjevic’s STARLIN project is using ERC funding to understand how normal cells become cancerous and spread.
Conducting research in small RNAs, Dr. Ramesh Pillai attempts to understand how the genome protects itself from an internal threat, namely ‘transposons’ or ‘jumping genes’ which can cause mutations. Awarded an ERC Starting grant in 2010, Dr. Pillai is based at the European Molecular Biological Laboratory, Grenoble (France).
The ability to fine-tune the functioning of blood vessels and the circulatory system is essential for combating the remodelling of the arteries that leads to heart attacks and strokes. It is also needed for the controlled repair of blood vessels after injury – which may otherwise result in a number of serious conditions. ERC grantee Professor Stefanie Dimmeler and her team at Frankfurt University are studying the role ribonucleic acid (RNA) plays in fine-tuning vascular functions – with the aim of developing new therapies for cardiovascular diseases, which are the most prevalent in Europe, due to growing obesity and longer lifespans.
The answer to why some people age earlier than others, or why they develop cancer, could lie at the very end sections of our DNA: the telomeres.