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Hefty Chunk of ERC's $1B Early-Career Program to Fund Life Sciences

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The European Research Council has awarded €800 million ($1.03 billion) to fund hundreds of new grants to early-career researchers, including around 200 awards to scientists working in the life sciences, under its most recent Starting Grant competition.

These awards provide up to €2 million to each project, and will enable promising early-career investigators to build their own research teams by engaging more than 3,000 postdocs and PhD students. Research projects funded under this program involve a wide range of genomic and genetic methods focused on biomedicine, agriculture, and basic research.

According to the ERC, 37 percent of the winning grants are in the life sciences, 44 percent are in the physical sciences and engineering, and 19 percent are in the social sciences and humanities.

The ERC Starting Grant budget was up 17 percent from last year, as was planned under the European Commission's Seventh Research Framework Programme, and it funded 12 percent more researchers than last year. The success rate for applicants dropped to 11 percent this year from 12 percent, however, as the number of applications received rose 16 percent to 4,741.

The grants support scientists of any nationality who are either already based in Europe or are willing to move there, and this year's awards will fund researchers representing 41 nationalities and working in 21 European countries. The average age of the successful Starting Grant winners is 37 years old, and 24 percent of them are women, an uptick from 21 percent a year ago.

"In a global knowledge economy we need new ideas to compete," European Commissioner for Research, Innovation, and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said in a statement. "So investing in world-class frontier research and in the next generation of scientists is one of Europe's top priorities. After just five years ERC grants are world-renowned, and help us retain and attract the best of the best."

Included among the life sciences grants are awards to:

• Delft University of Technology to study the dynamics of genome processing;
• Alexander Fleming Biomedical Sciences Research Center in Greece to understand the role of transcription in the maintenance of genome integrity;
• Netherlands Cancer Institute for the genome-wide identification of factors that control telomere damage response and telomere-driven genomic instability;
• Netherlands' Radboud University Nijmegen for a systems biology study of the interactions between microbial colonies and host genomes;
• University of Tuebingen, Germany, for research into ancient pathogen genomics of re-emerging infectious disease;
• University College Dublin for a comparative genomics project using transcriptomics to understand the mechanisms involved in halted aging in mammals;
• Centre for Genomic Regulation in Spain for studies of evolutionary genomics of long, non-coding RNAs;
• European Molecular Biology Laboratory for research into non-coding RNA pathways and the mammalian male germline;
• and the Research Center for Molecular Medicine in Austria to use a systems genomics approach to study inborn errors in the immune system.

The full list of life science grant winners can be found here.