EU funds research on genetic defects at the Max Planck Institute

Didier Stainier receives 2.5 million euros from the European Research Council

April 27, 2021

Didier Stainier, director at the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research in Bad Nauheim, Germany, will receive 2.5 million euros from the European Research Council (ERC) over the next five years to study genetic processes by which cells compensate for the consequences of genetic defects.

The background to the project is an observation made several years ago. In studies on zebrafish, Stainier's group found that often gene defects do not lead to the expected consequences. For example, organ defects predicted in the experiments did not occur during embryonic development. This occurs because genes with similar functions compensate for the failures. "We found that when one gene fails, related genes are more active. There is a molecular mechanism underlying this genetic compensation. The compensation is not random", Stainier said.

Stainier's research group was able to show in newer studies that the compensation occurs at the level of transcription and is not triggered by the loss of protein function. "We will explore this mechanism, which we named transcriptional adaptation, over the next five years with the help of the funding provided," Stainier said.

As part of the ERC-funded project, Stainier also plans to address the question of whether transcriptional adaptation also plays a role in human health and disease. Stainier hypothezises that compensatory mechanisms could ensure, despite defects in important genes, that affected individuals do not become ill or become less ill than would be expected. Therapeutic benefits are also to be investigated.

The EU's European Research Council is the premier European funding organization for excellent frontier research. Grants are awarded to "the best and most creative researchers" with the aim of carrying out the projects within Europe. The ERC's total budget until 2027 is more than 16 billion euros and is part of the Horizon Europe program.

Prof. Dr. Didier Stainier
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