FWF Emerging Fields Grant awarded to EvoChromo project

The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) has awarded an Emerging Fields Grant to EvoChromo, an interdisciplinary project coordinated by Frédéric Berger at the GMI. EvoChromo will establish a new research laboratory to uncover how the evolution of genome architecture proteins led to the development of complex life forms.

Today, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) announced that “EvoChromo”, a consortium coordinated by Frédéric Berger at the GMI, is among the projects funded through the new Emerging Fields initiative. The FWF Emerging Fields funding program supports pioneers in the field of basic research who challenge traditional ways of thinking. The EvoChromo project brings together three experts based in the Vienna area with interdisciplinary expertise in genetics, molecular biology, microbiology, evolution, advanced microscopy and structural biology to unravel the evolutionary origins of complex life forms: Fréderic Berger at the GMI, Christa Schleper at the Department of Functional Ecology and Evolution of University of Vienna and Florian Schur at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA). 

How multicellular life forms like plants and animals evolved from single-celled microorganisms such as bacteria and archaea, is one of the most fundamental questions in biology - and at the same time one of the least understood. Lokiarchaeum ossiferum, a recently cultured single-celled microorganism, is part of the Asgard archaea, a family of unicellular organisms that associated with bacteria 2 billion years ago, producing a new type of organisms that evolved into complex organisms including humans, animals and plants. The EvoChromo consortium will study Lokiarcheum ossiferum and other Asgards as models to identify and characterize the origins of chromatin proteins.  

In animals, chromatin proteins protect and package DNA and regulate gene activity to achieve specialized cell function. Differences in chromatin composition, for instance, are responsible for the difference between neurons and blood cells. Deregulation of chromatin can lead to multiple diseases, including cancer. Therefore, understanding chromatin evolution is also of utmost importance in medicine. The EvoChromo project will investigate how the innovation of chromatin protein in Asgards enabled the diversification of cell types, eventually leading to the evolution of complex multicellular life forms. Revealing such a unique event has the potential to change our understanding of the evolution of life on Earth. 

About the FWF Emerging Fields Grant 

The Emerging Fields program is aimed at funding new interdisciplinary consortia of outstanding researchers pursuing pioneering work in basic research who are prepared to depart from established approaches. The program gives researchers the opportunity to pursue particularly innovative, original, or high-risk ideas, focusing on funding research that has the potential to trigger a paradigm shift in its field. 

The program provides 5-year funding of between 3 and 6 million Euros which are divided between the participating project partners. The rigorous selection process, based on the recommendation of a multidisciplinary international jury, ensures that all participants will produce research of high scientific quality by international standards.