SciLifeLab researcher awarded ERC Synergy grant for EPIC project

The European Research Council (ERC) has announced the scientists selected for an ERC Synergy Grant. These prestigious grants are awarded to a group of two to four PIs who will collaborate on research projects that are too ambitious to be tackled by one research group alone. SciLifeLab researcher Vicent Pelechano from Karolinska Institutet is joined by Kevin Verstrepen from the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Microbiology (Belgium) and Julien Gagneur from the Technical University Munich (Germany) on the EPIC project (Unravelling the eukaryotic post-transcriptional regulatory code). Together, they aim to derive the first comprehensive sequence-based model of eukaryotic gene regulation.

Genomes contain the instructions that cells use to control how genes respond to their surroundings. This process is crucial for fields like biology, medicine, and biotechnology, but the specific code governing these regulations is still a mystery. Gene regulation involves two main steps: first, genes are transformed into mRNA, and then, various mechanisms affect how quickly this mRNA is turned into proteins. The second step, which focuses on post-transcriptional regulation, remains poorly understood because it’s challenging to measure factors like mRNA stability, mRNA-protein interactions, and where in the cell these processes occur.

“We will exploit the advantages of the model eukaryote Saccharomyces cerevisiae and other yeast species covering a broad evolutionary range to derive the first comprehensive sequence-based model of eukaryotic gene regulation,” says Kevin Verstrepen, Professor at VIB-KU Leuven Center for Microbiology.

This is where the EPIC project comes in. They are going to harness the power of a versatile organism called Saccharomyces cerevisiae and other species from different evolutionary backgrounds to create the first comprehensive model of gene regulation based on genetic sequences. EPIC brings together the expertise of three teams, using cutting-edge technologies to study post-transcriptional regulation on a massive scale across various species and conditions (Pelechano) and experimenting with regulatory sequences (Verstrepen). They also employ deep learning to analyze this data, allowing them to develop predictive models and decode intricate regulatory instructions (Gagneur).

“Our research group from the Technical University Munich will use deep learning on these data, which will allow us to build predictive models and unravel complex regulatory instructions,” says Julien Gagneur, Professor at TUM School of Computation, Information and Technology.

EPIC’s goal is to decipher the language of gene regulation, paving the way for genome editing and design. This project will not only enhance our understanding of regulation and its effects on an organism’s characteristics but also have significant applications in biotechnology and medicine. These applications range from identifying the genetic mutations that cause diseases to designing genes, RNA molecules, and cells for specific purposes.

“This is a grant to move forward our understanding of basic biology. We have assembled a great team of experts in genetics, systems, synthetic biology, and machine learning. It is a project that no lab could do by itself, but needs the cross-discipline and international collaboration we propose to “break the code” of mRNA,” says Vicent Pelechano, SciLifeLab researcher and principal researcher at Karolinska Institutet.

Unravelling the eukaryotic post-transcriptional regulatory code (EPIC) project in short:

10 million euros over 6 years across three PI’s:

  • Coordinator PI: Kevin Verstrepen (VIB-KU Leuven). Belgium.
  • PI: Julien Gagneur (Technical University of Munich). Germany.
  • PI: Vicent Pelechano (Karolinska Institutet). Sweden.


Last updated: 2023-10-30

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