ERC awards €619m in its first research grants under Horizon Europe

Three UofG researchers have been awarded a highly prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant.

Dr Gerasimos Tsourapas of the School of Social & Political Sciences, Dr Hugo Defienne of the  School of Physics & Astronomy and Dr Payam Gammage, of the Institute of Cancer Sciences and Group Leader at the CRUK Beatson Institute, are among 397 researchers to receive grants announced today.

Dr Tsourapas was awarded €1.49 million to carry out a five-year ERC project entitled 'The International Politics of Mobility Sanctions (MOBSANCT)', which takes migration research in a new direction.

It proposes a comprehensive framework that examines the use of labour and forced migration as an instrument of foreign policy by Western and non-Western countries alike. The project focuses on the seven countries involved in largest waves of migration into, out of, and across the Middle East, namely France, Germany, India, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

Dr Tsourapas said: “I am delighted to have been successful in securing an ERC Starting Grant. The use of migration in international diplomacy is increasingly common across the world, and MOBSANCT develops the first-ever global dataset on the use of labour and forced migration as an instrument of foreign policy. The project explains the rationale behind a range of processes, including Turkey’s use of Syrian refugees to elicit European financial and political concessions, and determines the likelihood of their success. Ultimately, MOBSANCT will enable the design of more effective responses to migrant and refugee crises.”

Dr Defienne has received €1.5 million for a project titled ‘Structuring Quantum Light for Microscopy’, or SQiMic. The project builds on Dr Defienne’s existing expertise in using quantum-entangled photons for imaging, including the development of the world’s first quantum hologram.

By sculpting light at the quantum level, Dr. Defienne and his team will develop a new kind of microscope with unprecedented performances. It will be used as a practical tool to unravel new biological behaviours and phenomena.

Dr Defienne said: “Being selected for an ERC Starting Grant is a real honour, and I’m proud that the European Research Council has chosen to support my research. The funding will allow me to explore new ways to use quantum-entangled photons to create sharper, more detailed microscopic images which could have valuable applications in life-science and biomedical imaging. I’m looking forward to starting work on the project.”

Dr Gammage, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Cancer Sciences and Group Leader at the CRUK Beatson Institute, was awarded €1.9m to carry out a five year project to develop advanced model systems and new technologies that enable the experimental manipulation of mitochondrial DNA. The aim of the MODELMITO project is to reveal a precise understanding of the role these mutations play in cancer development.

Mutations of DNA are always found in the tumour genome. These mutations drive both the cancer forming and spreading processes and, as a result, are the focus of much ongoing scientific effort to understand and treat cancer. Aside from DNA mutations, another hallmark of cancers is their altered use of nutrients and energy to support their growth and spread. One group of mutations, directly linked to altered use of nutrients, are those found in mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is essential to the function of mitochondria, which are the source of the majority of energy our bodies use. Unfortunately, mitochondrial DNA is not as easy to manipulate as other types of DNA, and the lack of practical technologies to perform experiments with it have held back this area of science for decades. This latest ERC grant will enable Dr Gammage and his team to move this crucial area of cancer sciences forward with their world-changing research.

Dr Gammage, whose research team is based at the Caner Research UK (CRUK) Beatson Institute and the University of Glasgow Institute of Cancer Sciences, said: “I’m both thrilled and humbled to have been selected for an ERC Starting Grant. It’s a major recognition of the importance of what our group does and a big opportunity to expand into exciting and ambitious areas of frontier science. We can’t wait to get started.”

Following the first call for proposals under the EU’s new R&I programme, Horizon Europe, €619 million announced today will be invested in excellent projects dreamed up by scientists and scholars.

Grants worth on average €1.5 million will help ambitious younger researchers launch their own projects, form their teams and pursue their best ideas.

The selected proposals cover all disciplines of research, from the medical applications of artificial intelligence, to the science of controlling matter by using light, to designing a legal regime for fair influencer marketing.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “With this very first round of long-awaited grants, I am glad to see the European Research Council remaining a flagship for excellent and curiosity-driven science under the Horizon Europe programme.

"I am looking forward to seeing what new breakthroughs and opportunities the new ERC laureates will bring, and how they will inspire young people to follow their curiosity and make discoveries for the benefit of us all.”

President of the European Research Council Professor Maria Leptin said: “Letting young talent thrive in Europe and go after their most innovative ideas - this is the best investment in our future, not least with the ever-growing competition globally.

"We must trust the young and their insights into what areas will be important tomorrow. So, I am thrilled to see these new ERC Starting Grant winners ready to cut new ground and set up their own teams. Some of them will be coming back from overseas, thanks to the ERC grants, to do science in Europe. We must continue to make sure Europe remains a scientific powerhouse.”


First published: 10 January 2022