Dr Jan-Willem Veening and Dr Ryan Chiechi of the University of Groningen have each been awarded a EUR 1,5 million ERC Starting Grant by the European Research Council. The grants will enable these talented young researchers to establish their own team to help further develop their research lines.
Research proposal Dr Jan-Willem Veening (Molecular Genetics):
Noise in gene expression as a determinant of virulence of the human pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae
Not all cells in bacterial populations exhibit exactly the same phenotype, even though they grow in the same environment and are genetically identical. One of the main driving forces of phenotypic variation is stochasticity, or noise, in gene expression. Possible molecular origins contributing to noise in protein synthesis are stochastic fluctuations in the biochemical reactions of gene expression itself, namely transcription and translation. Noise can lead to phenotypic variation that plays vital functional roles. For instance, phenotypic variation is employed by pathogenic bacteria to elude the host immune response, resist antibiotic pressure, or invade the host.
In this ERC-project, we will investigate the role of gene expression noise as a determinant of virulence of the important human pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae. S. pneumoniae is a leading cause of bacterial pneumoniae, meningitis, and sepsis worldwide killing nearly 1 million children each year. The molecular mechanisms that cause switching of S. pneumoniae to its virulent states are barely understood. Using synthetic and systems biology approaches, the molecular mechanisms underlying noise generation in S. pneumoniae will be determined and the importance of noisy gene expression in S. pneumoniae pathogenesis will be tested.
Understanding the molecular origins of phenotypic variation in S. pneumoniae might not only provide novel fundamental insights in gene expression, but also result in the identification of new anti-pneumococcal targets.
Research proposal Dr Ryan Chiechi (Chemistry of (Bio)organic Materials and Devices):
Controlling Tunnelling Charge Transport with Organic Synthesis
The goal of the project is to bring simple nanofabrication to molecular-electronic devices; to bridge the gap between Physics and Chemistry in Molecular Electronics. Spin-coating and vapor deposition have made measuring bulk transport phenomena of, for example, conjugated polymers a straightforward endeavor, however, the measurement tunneling currents through individual molecules has yet to benefit from this level of simplicity. There is a plethora of sophisticated, top-down spectroscopic tools for investigating the properties of molecules in tunneling junctions, but a paucity of simple, accessible tools for rapidly screening and characterizing target molecules for potentially interesting functionality.
We are developing two tools: conformal top-contacts of eutectic Ga-In (EGaIn) and SAM-templated addressable nanogaps (STANs), which we are fabricating using Nanoskiving, a form of mechanical edge lithography. Both of these tools fabricate tunneling junctions from the bottom-up, allowing the molecules themselves to define the smallest dimensions of the tunneling junctions via self-assembly.
With these tools, we would like measuring the properties of molecules in tunneling junctions to become as routine for chemists as NMR. Such accessibility would allow physical-organic studies on large series of molecules to be performed directly by synthetic chemists who could rapidly identify interesting targets and elucidate new behaviors, enabling the control of tunneling charge-transport with organic synthesis.
Titia de Lange has dedicated most of her working life to researching long telomeres – the ends of chromosomes. She was awarded an honorary doctorate in June for her ground-breaking research.
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