Utrecht University: Three ERC Consolidator Grants for Utrecht-based researchers

Two researchers from Utrecht University and one from the Hubrecht Institute have been awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant. The grant from the European Union enables researchers to further extend their scientific endeavour and consists on an average 2 million euro. The laureates at Utrecht University are Tobias Stark (Faculty of Social Sciences) and Markus Weingarth (Faculty of Science). The Hubrecht Institute’s laureate is Marvin Tanenbaum.

The ERC Consolidator grant enables associate professor Tobias Stark to investigate how Dutch people with a migration background can use their (often) dual identity to counter prejudice. Stark: “The idea is that someone who considers himself both Turkish and Dutch, for example, can build a bridge between these two groups.” Because people generally have a preference for dealing with similar people, their social world is often ethnically segregated. According to Stark, so-called dual identifiers have, in theory, a unique opportunity to connect here: they are often perceived as a member of the ethnic minority and a member of the national majority.

Using his ERC Consolidator grant, Stark will build a team of three PhD students and a postdoc.

If someone is only labelled as an immigrant, this may limit his ability and motivation to build bridges

Dr. Tobias Stark
Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences
Markus Weingarth, associate Professor of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), aims to investigate how antibiotics target certain lipid molecules -fats- that only exist in bacteria, but not in human cells. Using NMR techniques, this will enable him to study the killing mechanisms of antibiotics in bacterial cells at the resolution of individual atoms.

“Not much is known about antibiotics that target bacterial lipids, and the medical chemistry to improve these drugs is therefore often done in the dark”, said Weingarth. “The problem is that these antibiotics are sensitive to the natural organization of the bacterial cell. Hence, to understand how they work, we need to study antibiotics directly in their native environment, in intact bacteria.”

Weingarth wants to develop solid-state NMR experiments that enable him to, at the molecular level, study tiny, medically relevant concentrations of antibiotics in membranes of intact bacteria. “By establishing this methodology, I hope that, in the future, researchers will be able to make better antibiotics that we urgently need to combat drug-resistant bacteria.”

To make better antibiotics, we need to understand their molecular working mechanisms directly in intact bacteria

Dr. Markus Weingarth
Faculty of Science
Marvin Tanenbaum, group leader at the Hubrecht Institute, will use his ERC Consolidator Grant to develop novel approaches to gain a deep molecular understanding of viral biology. This should contribute to the development of therapeutic interventions for viral infections.

Tanenbaum’s group will further expand their toolbox for live visualization of virus infections in single molecules. The researchers aim to obtain molecular insights into early viral infection of a type of virus called a negative–sense RNA virus. A specific variant of this virus type, called respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, can be deadly in infants and vulnerable adults, but lacks effective treatment. Using their novel approaches, the Tanenbaum lab will gain a deep understanding of RSV biology, which will eventually inform therapeutic interventions.

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