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Three new ERC Grants for young Tübingen Max Planck scientists

Fulvia Bono, Wolfram Antonin and Michael Hothorn receive competitive European research funding

Fulvia Bono, research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, as well as Wolfram Antonin and Michael Hothorn, both Max Planck research group leaders at the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory in Tübingen, will each be awarded a Starting Grant of the European Research Council (ERC).

For the realization of their project ideas evaluated as scientifically excellent, the three scientists will each receive up to 1.5 million Euros over the next five years. ERC Starting Grants aim to support up-and-coming research leaders at an early stage of their career to conduct independent research in Europe.

According to the ERC, 800 million Euros will be spend to award 536 researchers in Europe Starting Grants this year. 4,741 scientists Europe-wide had applied for the highly funded grants that are awarded for scientifically excellent research proposals. ERC Starting Grants represent a personal distinction for the individual scientist and provide funding for up to 5 years. This year’s awards highlight the scientific excellence of the entire Tübingen Max Planck Campus: Including 2010 ERC Starting Grant recipients Gáspár Jékely and Richard Neher from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, five of the 13 independent young research group leaders at the MPI for Developmental Biology and the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory are now funded by ERC Starting Grants.

Since 2011, Fulvia Bono has been leading an independent research group at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology. She investigates the role of the intracellular transport of macromolecules in the regulation of gene expression. With the funds from the ERC Starting Grant she will extend her research to include the study of the crucial role that the correct messenger RNA (mRNA) localization in the cell cytoplasm plays during animal development, in the maintenance of cell polarity and in nervous system function.

Messenger RNA is combined with certain proteins to form particles, the so-called mRNP complexes. In the fruit fly Drosophila, the localization of these complexes determines the formation of the embryo’s body axis. Fulvia Bono wants to understand the function of the mRNP systems at a mechanistic level and gain deeper insight into the connection between genes and outer appearance of organisms.

With the ERC Grant she will recruit several new members for her research group. “With the expanded resources of the ERC grant, I can accept some more scientific challenges I could not have thought of otherwise,” she says. Fulvia Bono received her PhD from the University of Pavia in 2000 and continued her research at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg for five years. From 2008 to 2011, she was a project leader at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology.

Wolfram Antonin has been a Max Planck research group leader at the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory since 2006. His main research topic is the breakdown of the nuclear envelope, which separates the nucleus with the DNA from cell cytoplasm, in the process of cell division and its reassembly after formation of the daughter cells. With the ERC Starting Grant he will be able to start an additional project with several new team members and pursue his interest in DNA decondensation.

During cell division, the DNA has to be contracted up to 50 times in the chromosomes to a transport form. After the formation of the new daughter cells, the DNA is unpacked again for transcription and replication. Wolfram Antonin had noticed that, while the packing of the DNA is a well-studied process, little is known of DNA decondensation. “It is possible,” the scientist says, “that DNA decondensation is a passive process, as if a clip around the DNA thread is released and the DNA just relaxes.” However, initial experiments hint at an active process. Wolfram Antonin wants to investigate this process and the proteins involved.

“This is a high-risk research project, since we cannot say anything about the outcome. This is special about the ERC grants, that the sponsor trusts the skills of the scientists themselves and funds promising project ideas,” he says. Wolfram Antonin obtained his PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen in 2001. After receiving post-doctoral training at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, he joined the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory in 2006.

Since the beginning of 2012, Michael Hothorn has been building up his Max Planck research group at the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory. His research field is structural plant biology; he investigates signaling pathways in plant cells. With the funding from the ERC Starting Grant he will be able to start an additional project on the search for the enzyme responsible for the assembly of phosphate polymers in plant cells. The corresponding enzyme in bacteria has been known for a long time, yet it does not exist in the cells of higher organized organisms, like plants or mammals. “The function of the phosphate polymers is enigmatic,” the scientist says. “It has been suggested that they are used to store phosphate in plant cells and tissues.” The project may, in the future, have applications in crop science, as, at present, many crop species require the application of phosphate fertilizers.
“Without the ERC Grant, I could not afford a project of this size and kind. The sparse results from our first experiments would not have been sufficient for the usual ways of obtaining research funding. The prospect of our high-risk project is to find out something fundamentally new, yet the risk is to receive detached data we are not able to connect,” the scientist says. After obtaining his PhD at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg in 2006, Michael Hothorn carried out research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla before joining the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory in 2011.

Dr. Fulvia Bono
Phone: + 49 7071 601- 1367
E-mail: fulvia.bono(at)

Dr. Wolfram Antonin
Phone: +49 7071 601- 836
E-mail: wolfram.antonin(at)

Dr. Michael Hothorn
Phone: +49 7071 601- 823
E-mail: michael.hothorn(at)

Janna Eberhardt | idw
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