University of Glasgow academics awarded €4.7m in prestigious ERC Starting Grants

Published: 22 November 2022

Three University of Glasgow academics have been awarded more than €4.7m in the prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant scheme.

Three University of Glasgow academics have been awarded more than €4.7m in the prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant scheme.

A view of Glasgow including the Hydro, University Tower and Science Centre, taken from the Library.

Dr Suzannah Rihn from the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR), Dr Anna de Jong from the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Dr Lorenza Fontana from the School of Social and Political Sciences have each been awarded a grant from the ERC in order to further research into new coronaviruses, impacts of tourism and the issue of wildfires in the Global South.

Virologist Dr Suzannah Rihn has been awarded €1.9m to improve our understanding of how new coronaviruses might be able to transmit between rodents and humans in the future.

While SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, might be the most well-known coronavirus, it is actually the third coronavirus to have emerged in humans in the last 20 years alone. Of these three coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 causes the least severe disease, although it is the most widely spread coronavirus and its emergence highlights the urgent need to prepare for possible future coronavirus epidemics or pandemics.

Dr Rihn’s research will focus on answering questions about the potential for future coronaviruses to spill over from the animal population into the human world. At present, seven coronaviruses are known to have circulated widely in humans. Although some of these viruses, like SARS-CoV-2, are thought to have originated in bats, some of the other coronaviruses are widely believed to have rodent origins. Rodents also host many other coronaviruses whose potential to transmit to humans and cause future epidemics or pandemics is largely unknown.

Dr Rihn said: “Our research will seek to improve the world’s understanding of the potential for a new coronavirus transmission between rodents and humans. Ultimately, we hope this work can improve preparedness, and efforts to help prevent another devastating pandemic. I’m very grateful to the ERC for this funding and look forward to using our work to improve our understanding of how coronaviruses emerge in the human population.”

Dr Lorenza Fontana, a Senior Lecturer in International Relations, has been awarded €1.5m to carry out a cross-continental study of the political drivers of wildfires with a focus on the Global South.

Extreme wildfires have been on the rise across the globe due to climate change and other human actions. Dr Fontana’s research project aims to deliver a new framework to understand and explain the connections between politics and wildfires, at a timely moment when wildfires have been identified as crucial socio-ecological challenges within the global climate change agenda.

It will develop a new framework around the concept of ‘wildfire commons’ as a way of engaging the academic community, policy stakeholders and the public in the co-production of alternative pathways for the sustainable, equitable and politically engaged management of wildfires.

Dr Fontana, who is based at the University’s School of Social and Political Sciences, said: “The likelihood and extent of extreme fires are increasing worldwide. This project will be a timely contribution to understand and explain how politics, broadly defined, shape wildfires and vice versa.

“I am grateful to the ERC for this opportunity, and I look forward to working alongside my team to generate novel findings that will be instrumental in crafting alternative pathways for the sustainable and equitable management of wildfires, notably within the global climate debate and action plans.”

Dr Anna de Jong has been awarded €1.3 million to carry out the JUST TOUR project, which will increase knowledge of the impacts of tourism development on residents and community rights.

Tourism as a development tool is central to much European Union (EU) and United Kingdom(UK) regional policy. This is because of tourism’s ‘job creation potential’. This resulting spill-over can counter structural problems such as industrial and population decline that lead to a lack of attractive employment opportunities, skill shortages, underinvestment, as well as youth drain. And yet, within regional development policy there is limited attention given to the distribution of benefits that arise through tourism, and how distribution is determined by power relations between individuals within specific regions.

Dr de Jong’s research will focus on capturing the decision-making processes involved in developing tourism across the UK and EU, and also insights into the effects of those decisions on residents.

Dr de Jong, a Senior Lecturer in Tourism based at the University’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies in Dumfries, said: “This research hopes to bring attention to the injustices experienced by residents in tourism dominant regions and will also work to develop solutions to these injustices.

“I’m incredibly grateful to the ERC for funding this research, and I cannot wait to begin working on the project.”



First published: 22 November 2022