Jana Gregor

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04103 Leipzig

+49 (0) 341 - 9959 - 650

+49 (0) 341 - 9959 - 658


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Dr Matteo Smerlak has been awarded the Human Frontiers Science Grant

Our Sofja Kovalevskaja research group leader Dr Matteo Smerlak has been awarded one of the prestigious Young Investigators Grants from the Human Frontier Sciences Program Organisation (HFSPO). In a collaborative research project he will investigate processes of RNA based evolution.

The research project entitled “From self-reproduction to evolution in the RNA world” will study if evolution is possible in the absence of template-based replication. Matteo Smerlak works in a collaborative team with Philippe Nghe from ESCPI Paris, France, Eric Hayden from the Boise State University, USA, and Arati Ramesh from the National Center for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India.

Life as we know it relies on a close partnership between DNA and proteins: the former carries a set of instructions on how to build and maintain a living cell - its program -, while the latter performs the chemical work of running that program, including replicating DNA during cell division. Because neither can operate without the other, the origin of life is shrouded in a basic mystery: which of DNA and proteins came first, and how could life exist without the complex cellular architecture that links them in all modern organisms?

The project will explore a possible solution of this conundrum, the so-called “RNA world hypothesis”. In this scenario, RNA - a molecule closely related to DNA - acts as both as information carrier and as catalyst in early life. Matteo Smerlak and his collaborators will use a mixture of computational and experimental approaches to test the viability of the RNA world hypothesis. Either way, they expect to learn a great deal about the way evolution operated at the dawn of life.

HFSP’s collaborative Research Grants are granted for a broad range of projects under the umbrella theme “Complex mechanisms of living organisms”. The program funds only cutting-edge, risky projects and it is the only international program that funds teams of scientists globally “without borders”. This year, 9 Young Investigator Grants and 25 Program Grants were selected for funding. For a period of 3 years, each team member receives on average $110,000 - $125,000 per year.

The Human Frontier Science Program is an international program of research support implemented by the International Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO) based in Strasbourg, France. Its aims are to promote intercontinental collaboration and training in cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research focused on the life sciences. HFSPO receives financial support from the governments or research councils of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland, UK, USA, as well as from the European Union.

More information:

Contact Dr Matteo Smerlak:

Phone : +49 341 9959 546

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Jana Gregor
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Paul Heine
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Jörg Lehnert
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27.11.2020, 10:22