EUR-2-million grant for biofilm research

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded an Advanced Investigator Grant to a scientist at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, to fund a new project studying bacterial biofilms. The project was selected for funding from 1,584 proposals and 513 projects in the life sciences field.

Professor Dr Regine Hengge from the university's biology, chemistry and pharmacy department will receive a grant of up to EUR 2 million for her research project 'Cyclic-di-GMP: new concepts in second messenger signalling and bacterial biofilm formation'.

The aim is to improve our understanding of biofilms, groups of microorganisms resistant to both antibiotics and the immune system that stick together on a surface and can cause infection and disease. They are found on medical equipment such as catheters, and in the mouth they lead to tooth decay and gum disease.

Biofilms grow quickly on surfaces that are constantly wet such as water supply systems, in the marine environment and in sewage treatment plants. They can block pipes and cause corrosion, resulting in damage worth millions of euro. They are often are treated by simply cleaning or painting over infected surfaces with a material that contains toxic metals.

Professor Hengge hopes to contribute to efforts to develop substances that will prevent biofilms forming by working out how the formation occurs.

The funding for the project extends over a period of five years and will be used to employ postdoctoral researchers and graduate students, as well as to buy laboratory equipment and expand international collaboration. Two international conferences will also be held at the Freie Universität.

The research will focus on the molecular genetic control mechanisms behind biofilms and the processing of various environmental signals to determine the origin, make-up and properties of biofilms of the model organism and major pathogen Escherichia coli.

In this funding round, the ERC released up to EUR 490 million in grants for scientists working at European research institutes. The grants are awarded to scientists with an excellent track record of innovative scientific research in the previous 10 years.

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