ERC Starting Grants for Joanna Jachowicz and Kelly Swarts

Two ERC Starting Grants were granted to two female group leaders at the Vienna BioCenter. IMBA researcher Joanna Jachowicz will investigate how the dark genome regulates early mammalian development. GMI and Max Perutz Labs researcher Kelly Swarts will investigate how to help prepare forests for the changing climate. The ERC is the most prestigious, and highly competitive, funding body for basic research within the EU.

Left to right: Kelly Swarts, group leader at the Gregor Mendel Institute and Max Perutz Labs (©GMI); Joanna Jachowicz, group leader at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (©IMBA/Schartel).

Kelly Swarts, GMI & Max Perutz Labs

Kelly Swarts, group leader at the Gregor Mendel Institute and the Max Perutz Labs, received a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for her project “Tree Ring Genomics”. This grant will fund the Swarts lab to investigate the adaptive responses of forest trees to climate change.

Understanding how an organism might respond to changing climate requires observing the organism across different environments. Ecologically dominant tree species serve as a major carbon sink to buffer the effects of climate change. However, trees have long generation times that limit the number of individuals that can be assessed through traditional agronomic approaches and our ability to study responses to climate change. Luckily, temperate trees record their history of growth in their trunk as tree rings, which are formed when growth pauses over the cold winter months. Annual growth measurements in conjunction with historical environmental data from weather stations, satellites, and historical records allow the Swarts Lab to observe how a given tree responds to the diverse environments it experiences over its lifespan.

The ERC Starting Grant will allow the Swarts lab to integrate environmental responses with genetic variation in the Norway Spruce (Picea abies) and identify the genetics underlying adaptive traits. In addition, this approach will allow them to identify trees better adapted to different environments. Ultimately, the insights obtained by the Swarts lab will be able to inform reforestation decisions, so that following fire or disease, more adapted individuals can be planted to ensure healthy future forests.

Read the full story on the GMI website and the website of the Max Perutz Labs.

Joanna Jachowicz, IMBA

Joanna Jachowicz, group leader at IMBA since July 2022, received a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to study the role of the “dark” genome in early cell fate decisions. The Jachowicz lab will now benefit from European funds over the next five years to dissect the role of the “dark” genome in regulating cell fate decisions during the earliest developmental stages. The work could find applications in improving reproductive medicine and stem cell research.

The “dark” parts of the genome – including transposons, repeats, and long non-coding RNAs – have been recently implicated in regulating the 3D genome architecture and gene expression. However, their role in early developmental transitions remains unclear. In the project supported by the ERC Starting Grant, Joanna Jachowicz will be able to study the role of the dark genome in regulating early mammalian development. Possible applications of this work include a better understanding of reproductive medicine and advances in the field of stem cell research.

Read the full story on the IMBA website.

The European Research Council (ERC)

The European Research Council (ERC) is a highly prestigious funding body of the European Union. The ERC’s mission is to facilitate the highest quality of research across all fields in Europe through competitive funding. The projects may be headed by starting or established researchers, and the sole criterion for selection is scientific excellence.