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Four scientists in Portugal receive funding from the European Research Council


Four scientists working in Portugal are among the 312 top scientists selected in the first Call of Consolidator Grants of the European Research Council (ERC). Rui Costa (Champalimaud Foundation - FC), Lars Jansen (Gulbenkian Science Institute - IGC), Edgar Gomes (Institute of Molecular Medicine - IMM) and Sofia Aboim (Institute of Social Sciences - ICS) will receive a total of 7 million euros to consolidate their research teams and develop their ideas over five years.

Lars Jansen, a Dutch scientist who has been at the IGC for five years, will enhance the work already done by his team to better understand how the non-coded information in DNA is reliably transmitted from the mother cell to the daughter cells during the process of cell division. In cells with a nucleus, DNA is wrapped around proteins called histones. Small chemical changes in the histones are known to regulate the activation of genes. For this project, Lars will investigate whether these changes are heritable, and how this process relates to gene activation, in cancer cells and stem cells, for example.

Edgar Gomes' project aims to understand how the position of the nucleus in muscle fiber cells affects cell function and is implicated in muscle diseases. In fully developed muscle cells, the nucleus is located at the periphery of the cell, while during development and regeneration, as well as in various pathologies, the nucleus occupies a central position in the cell. Edgar's team at the IMM has already shown that the position of the nucleus affects the function of muscle cells; it remains to be shown why, through work to follow the migration and formation of these cells.

Rui Costa, a neuroscientist at the Champalimaud Foundation, is interested in the phenomenon of chunking, through which the brain connects small modules of cells or sequences of brain activity to organize memories and coordinate complex actions. It is known that basal ganglia cells are involved in chunking, but little is known yet, at the cell level, about how neuronal circuits are connected, in space and time, allowing actions to be initiated and unfold. Rui Costa's project aims to unravel this process, using some of the most advanced neuroscientific techniques.

One of the grants in the area of social sciences went to Sofia Aboim, who will study the lives of transgender people, as well as the institutional and legal apparatus that frame them, in 5 European countries: Portugal, France, United Kingdom, Netherlands and Sweden. Interviews will be conducted in each country, collecting information that answers questions such as who transgender people are, how they define themselves, what their place is in the world of work, if and how they are marginalized.

Consolidator Grants are awarded to scientists with seven to 12 years of post-PhD experience. In this first Call 3600 applications were received; only 8.5% were funded, making this Call one of the most competitive of the ERC. Since its formation, in 2007, and in all the Calls ERC launched to date, 34 scientists working in Portugal have received this prestigious funding.