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The deep seafloor covers around 70% of our planet’s surface and is home to a diverse community of microorganisms, mostly bacteria. These single-cell life forms inhabit some of the most extreme places in the world, with freezing waters, permanent darkness, high pressure and little food. ERC grantee Antje Boetius studies these microbes in the abyss and their important role for the Earth’s nutrient cycles.
Honey bees are an important species for ecology and economy, but their population has shrank worryingly. Prof. Philipp Engel focuses on gut microbiota, a critical factor for bee health, to understand how it evolved and diversified over time. His study addresses timely questions about evolution, ecology, microbiology and could eventually contribute to new strategies for managing bee colonies’ health.
Prof. Gregoire Courtine believes paralysed patients will be able to walk again. This belief has represented the focus of years of work aimed at regenerating the functions of the spinal cord after injury. Thanks to his ERC funding in both 2010 and 2015, Prof. Courtine and his team have been able to develop so-called “personalised neuroprosthetics” that have led immobile rats, and more recently monkeys, to overcome their paralysis.
Prof. Ian Thomas Baldwin received an ERC Advanced Grant to study the internal circadian clock of plants. In particular, he wants to understand the ecological consequences of plants fallings ‘out of synch’. In this interview, Prof. Baldwin shares some of his research findings and explains why he has chosen to make his study results openly available.
If Darwin could have scuba dived, he would have enjoyed the East African lakes: Victoria, Malawi and Tanganyika. Here live the cichlids – a colourful fish which has evolved rapidly into thousands of species, emulating and surpassing Darwin's finches in the Galapagos. Prof. Walter Salzburger, an Austrian researcher, is using his ERC grants to study the diversity of cichlids from ecological, morphological and genetic viewpoints. He believes these unique fish provide an ideal model system to understand the "how" and the "why" in questions of evolutionary biology: questions that relate to all life on earth.
Sponges seem an unlikely source for innovation, yet they may hold the key to new nanotechnologies, innovative optical devices and new ways of regrowing human bone and preventing bone disease. Difficult to believe? Not for Werner E.G. Müller. In the BIOSILICA project, he and his team are developing ways to adapt the complex processes that natural glassy sponges use to build their wondrous biosilica structures for use in biodegradable implants that would facilitate bone healing after surgery or fractures.
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.
Significant progress has been made in understanding breast tumour biology. However statistics indicate that the number of breast cancer patients and victims will continue to increase. Dr. Bentires-Alj, ERC Starting Grantee at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, and his team are studying the roles of the still under-explored family of protein-tyrosine phosphatases (PTPs) in both normal breast development and cancers. In a recent study, published in Nature Medicine in March 2012, Dr Bentires-Alj's team have revealed the fundamental role of the protein phosphatase SHP2 in breast cancer proliferation, invasion and metastasis.