ERC Starting Grant for Francesca Mattiroli and Katharina Sonnen

5 September 2019

Francesca Mattiroli and Katharina Sonnen, both group leader at the Hubrecht Institute, are awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Starting grant.

The prestigious ERC Starting grants are awarded to support up-and-coming research leaders who have recently established their own research team in Europe.Francesca Mattiroli will investigate how epigenetic information is maintained during cell division. Katharina Sonnen will study how cells communicate with each other during development and tissue homeostasis.

Mattiroli: Mechanism of nucleosome assembly during DNA replication

Every day 300 billion cells divide to maintain the tissues in our body healthy. As cells divide, they need to properly copy their DNA and its organization in the cell nucleus. In this way, both daughter cells will contain the same information as their mother cell, and in the proper organizational structure. This ensures that each cell maintains its identity within the tissue. A transformation to a different cell identity may lead to cancer. Until now, it is unclear how the organization of DNA is copied from the mother cell to the daughter cells.

Francesca Mattiroli and her team will use state-of-the-art biochemical and biophysical approaches to study how cells accurately replicate DNA and its organization, to prepare for cell division.

Sonnen: Signalling dynamics in the control of development and tissue homeostasis

During both embryonic development and maintenance of adult tissue the amplification of cells and their differentiation into specific cell types (for instance gut cells) have to be tightly controlled. Failure in this regulation can result in developmental malformations or diseases such as cancer. For proper control, cells communicate with each other via signalling pathways. To make this communication specific and accurate cells can use the temporal change of a signal, called the “dynamics”, to encode information. Similar to the way radio signals can be transmitted by “frequency modulation” (FM), cells can for example vary the frequency of a signal to decide whether cells should amplify or differentiate into a specific cell type.

Katharina Sonnen and her team will use a comprehensive toolset including advanced light microscopy, perfusion chambers and in vitro cultures of embryos and mini-organs in the dish to reveal how cells communicate with each other via signalling dynamics to ensure proper development and tissue homeostasis.