Two ERC Starting Grants for MPI-CBG research group leaders

Agnes Toth-Petroczy and Alexander von Appen receive funds to launch their own projects.

Agnes Toth-Petroczy and Alexander von Appen ©MPI-CBG / Katrin Boes

The European Research Council (ERC) has announced the awarding of 400 Starting Grants to young scientists and scholars across Europe. The grants, totaling 628 million euros, support cutting-edge research in a wide range of fields, from medicine and physics to social sciences and the humanities. They will help researchers at the beginning of their careers to launch their own projects, form their teams, and pursue their best ideas.

Two of the ERC starting grant winners are Agnes Toth-Petroczy and Alexander von Appen, both research group leaders at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden. Agnes’ project with the title “Evolution of Biomolecular Condensates” includes a comprehensive research program with both theoretical and experimental approaches to reveal how and when protein condensates emerged during evolution. “Previous research on condensates focused on identifying their components, material properties, and function. In contrast to our precise understanding of membrane-bound compartments, we lack a comprehensive picture of the mechanisms that target proteins into condensates and how condensates emerged during evolution. I hypothesize that localization into condensates is encoded in protein sequences and that functional condensates are under selection pressure and therefore conserved,” says Agnes.

With his project “Mechanisms of nuclear self-assembly,” Alexander von Appen plans to build minimal, synthetic cell nuclei (‘Organelloids’) bottom-up as a tool to study the self-assembly of a functional nucleus. Alexander explains: “The shape and function of the vertebrate cell nucleus depend on the choreographed interplay between lipids, proteins, and DNA. Even small molecular changes can cause detrimental human diseases, including premature aging, cancer, and heart disease. To date, a clear, mechanistically compelling explanation for the dynamic coupling of lipids, proteins, and DNA to safeguard nuclear shape and function is still missing. My team and I aim to define the fundamental principles that govern nuclear biogenesis, with implications for health and disease.”

Congratulations, Agnes and Alexander!

Successful applicants will carry out their projects at universities and research centers in 24 countries in Europe, with 44 nationalities represented. The grants are part of the EU’s Research and Innovation program, Horizon 2020. The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premiere European funding organization for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, most creative researchers of any nationality and age to run projects based in Europe.

Press Release of the European Research Council on ERC Starting Grants