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People have been producing and using silk for more than 5 000 years, but now – thanks to an ERC Advanced Grant – Professor Fritz Vollrath is increasing our understanding of this material. His research could help to improve existing industrial polymers and develop new silk industries, adapted to the local conditions and resources in Asia, Africa and South America.
Pursuing a sustainable development and broadening social justice and cohesion are some of the challenges that Europe is currently facing. What if we could learn how to solve these challenges by using the social and political innovations taking place in different corners of the globe? Professor Boaventura de Sousa Santos suggests that a new approach can be developed in Europe based on the diversity of practices elsewhere.
Parents have long tried to persuade children to eat their greens by promising it will give them better eyesight. We all know that our vision deteriorates as we get older. Dr John Nolan is using his Starting Grant from the ERC to develop a targeted approach that could optimise the nutrition of the eye. This research will lead to improvements in eyesight for many sufferers of impaired vision, and potentially be beneficial even for those who are considered to have ‘normal’ vision.
We normally think of anthropologists studying ‘exotic’ cultures – ancient tribes that live in faraway places. But how about cultures that are closer to home? Professor Rebecca Cassidy has devoted herself to anthropological studies of European cultures of gambling. In the ‘Gambling in Europe’ (GAMSOC) project – funded by the ERC – Prof. Cassidy and her team have taken this a step further, and conducted an anthropological study of the gambling research community itself.
Graphene is a one-atom-thick flat sheet formed by an array of six carbon atoms arranged in hexagons to form a honey-comb crystal lattice. It is the strongest and most conductive material in the world: just one square metre of material weighing only 0.77 mg could support a weight of 4 kg. It is a highly flexible, and chemically very stable, material. It could one day replace silicon, becoming the post-silicon material the electronics industry has been searching for. Using graphene instead of silicon would enable the packing of features more densely into circuits, for example.
Both tropical forests and areas with extensive forest coverage are fundamental in tackling the effects of climate change on Earth. However, the environmental importance of arid, semi-arid and dry-subhumid ecosystems – also referred to as drylands - is less well known. Drylands cover about 40% of the Earth's land surface and support 38% of human population. With his BIOCOM project Dr Fernando T. Maestre, a 2009 ERC Starting grantee from the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (Spain), investigates the role of biodiversity in enhancing the ability of drylands to maintain essential functions. Some of these functions have the capacity to combat the consequences of climate change and desertification in drylands worldwide.
illustration © Semiarid landscape in Argentina - Juan Gaitán
The 22nd of March is UN World Water Day. Each year World Water Day highlights the importance of fresh water for global health: water's critical role in food security; its cultural role in shaping societies worldwide; the impact of natural disasters; the significance of clean water supplies in preventing the spread of diseases.
Caption: A young boy drinking the water of the Meghna River near Matlab (Bangladesh), a place where cholera is endemic©Photos by courtesy of Professor Andrea Rinaldo
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.
Nanotechnology — the science of making and manipulating the very small — has the potential to transform our lives. With the help of ERC funding, Dr Davide Iannuzzi is building microscopic moving parts on to the ends of optical fibres, leading to better instruments for observing and measuring at the nanoscale.
The genetic heredity a person is born with isn't as impossible to change as one might think. In a study published in Cell Metabolism on 7 March 2012 Juleen Zierath, an ERC Advanced grantee 2008, and her team of researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden showed that when healthy but inactive men and women are made to exercise it actually alters chemical marks on their DNA - in a matter of minutes.