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March 12, 2024

Two Emerging Fields Teams with ISTA participation

Florian Schur and Gaia Novarino receive FWF funding for pioneering research

As part of the initiative “excellence=Austria”, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) funds pioneering work in fundamental research. Two ISTA professors are part of the so-called Emerging Fields teams: biochemist and cell biologist Florian Schur in the “EvoChromo” project, which investigates the origins of life, and neuroscientist Gaia Novarino in the “Brain Resilience” project, which aims to strengthen the brain’s capability to remain healthy despite mutations.

The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) provides 31 million Euro for innovative ideas “to further expand areas of strength at Austria’s research institutions.” On Tuesday, March 12, 2024, FWF President Christof Gattringer presented the five Emerging Fields teams and their projects, in which around one hundred researchers from thirteen institutions are participating. The international jury evaluated the proposals according to their “groundbreaking innovation potential.” Two research groups from the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA) are part of the initiative.

Strengthen the resilience of the brain

As the human brain grows cell by cell in the womb, its development depends on thousands of genes and their interactions. Even the smallest deviations in the genetic code can cause a disposition to neurological developmental disorders. At the same time, many people with this predisposition live a healthy life. By understanding the molecular processes, the “Brain Resilience” team hopes to find the key to making the brain more resistant to such mutations.

As a neuroscientist, Gaia Novarino researches the origins of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and epilepsy. Her group at ISTA has developed numerous models for these disorders and is collaborating with colleagues from the Medical University Vienna as well as the research institutions CeMM and IMBA in this Emerging Field. “We will not only provide the models that will be investigated but also important know-how on the specific disorders and the methodologies to analyze these models,” specifies Novarino.

The consortium includes (from left to right in the picture):

  • Jürgen A. Knoblich (Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA), Austrian Academy of Sciences)
  • Gaia Novarino (Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA))
  • Christoph Bock (CeMM – Research Center for Molecular Medicine, Austrian Academy of Sciences)
  • Igor Igorevich Adameyko (Coordinator, Medical University of Vienna)
  • Roman A. Romanov (Medical University of Vienna)
  • Daniela D. Pollak-Monje Quiroga (Medical University of Vienna)
EmergingFields Hirnforschung Credit FWF KlausRanger
The team of the Emerging Field “Brain Resilience.” It will receive 6.8 million Euro to research the brain’s resistance to predispositions of neurodevelopmental disorders. © FWF/Klaus Ranger

Explore the origins of complex life

Single-cell organisms were an early stage of life on earth. How multicellular life such as plants, animals, and ultimately humans was able to develop from these unicellular organisms is one of the most fundamental questions in biology. The Emerging Fields project “EvoChromo”, also known as “Crucial steps in evolution: The rise of genome architecture,” consisting of three research groups from the University of Vienna, the GMI, and ISTA, wants to address this still unanswered question.

Their approach looks at the emergence of certain proteins that combine with DNA to form so-called chromatin. Chromatin is responsible for differentiating the many cell types of complex life forms. The fact that variants of these chromatin proteins developed before multicellular organisms provides a clue of the role chromatin has played in evolution.

The consortium includes (from left to right in the picture):

  • Christa Schleper (University of Vienna)
  • Frédéric Berger (Coordinator, GMI – Gregor Mendel Institute of Molecular Plant Biology, Austrian Academy of Sciences)
  • Florian Schur (Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA))
EmergingFields Mikrobiologie Credit FWF KlausRanger
The Emerging Fields team in the field of evolution and genome architecture. The team receives 4.4 million Euro in funding for research into the origins of life. © FWF/Klaus Ranger


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