12 September 2017

Young research talents receive prestigious grant


Studies of ants’ farming methods, of the potential health risks associated with acrylamide, of the development of new methods for calculating particle physics experiments and of the properties of junk DNA. The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded prestigious Starting Grants to five young researchers from the University of Copenhagen. The grants will allow them to focus even more on their already promising research career.

Five young researchers with very different research projects have made it through the eye of the needle and will each receive DKK 11 million to build their own research teams over the course of the next five years. This gives them a unique opportunity to delve even deeper into their research projects, all of which are important contributions to the diverse and excellent research conducted at the University of Copenhagen.

“Five ERC Starting Grants for the University of Copenhagen is extremely satisfactory and testifies to the fact that we have a large talent base, which is also appreciated in the rest of Europe. It bodes well for the future," says Thomas Bjørnholm, Prorector for Research and Innovation at the University of Copenhagen.

Valuable junk DNA

One of the five recipients is DNA researcher Sebastian Marquardt, an assistant professor at the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.

DNA is a complex library of genes encoding everything from plants' ability to absorb sunlight to the colour of a person's hair. But the vast majority of DNA found in complex organisms, plants and humans does not code for anything – the so-called junk DNA.

A team of researchers from the Copenhagen Plant Science Centre at the University of Copenhagen will investigate the so-called junk DNA, which makes up a very large part of plant genomes. They will examine the actual importance of this DNA.

Nevertheless, junk DNA is transcribed into long RNA strands, a fundamental process in many organisms. But the process leaves behind important molecular traces that can contribute to switching genes on and off to determine whether they should be activated in the organism. In this manner, the transcription process is a form of genetic punctuation.
It's the details of this complex genetic punctuation, thus far unknown, that Sebastian Marquardt and his team will now examine.

"Our project will help us understand what distinguishes organisms. Many of the differences observed in the DNA of organisms is found in the non-coding sequences. We can create a basic understanding, which may lead to new discoveries that can be used in industry," Sebastian Marquardt says. Read more about his project here (in Danish only)

New centre gives research optimal opportunities

The research project will be based at the new Copenhagen Plant Science Centre, which, with its unique facilities, provides the best opportunities for research within advanced plant science. The new centre will help pave the way for scientific and technological breakthroughs in the work around plant structure and use – for instance in connection with food and energy production.
Read more about the Copenhagen Plant Science Centre