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Prestigious ERC Starting Grant awarded to HIRI

1.5 million euros for research on SARS-CoV-2

Würzburg, January 10, 2022 – Principal Investigator Mathias Munschauer aims to better understand SARS-CoV-2. He now receives funding of 1.5 million euros for his research project “COVIDecode” from the European Research Council (ERC). Munschauer is the third scientist at the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI) in Würzburg to be awarded an ERC grant.

The grants of the European Research Council (ERC) are among the most important and prestigious funding instruments in science. Accordingly, there is great joy about receiving the award – not only in Würzburg, but also in Braunschweig: HIRI is a joint venture of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) there and the Julius Maximilians University (JMU) in Würzburg.

“It reflects the importance of our work that once again one of our scientists has been awarded this prestigious funding,” says Jörg Vogel, Managing Director of HIRI. “Cutting-edge research depends on sufficient financial resources. I am very pleased that Mathias Munschauer has received one of the sought-after ERC Starting Grants.”

“The ERC grants are highly appreciated by the international scientific community,” adds Dirk Heinz, Scientific Director of the HZI. “We cordially congratulate Mathias Munschauer on his great success. This will enable him to expand his groundbreaking research on the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the human organism.”

How SARS-CoV-2 utilizes the host cell

Mathias Munschauer leads the research group “LncRNA and Infection Biology” at HIRI. He also holds a junior professorship at JMU. His project “COVIDecode”, now funded by the ERC, aims to contribute to a better understanding of SARS-CoV-2. Munschauer focuses on the molecular interactions between host and pathogen. Like many human viruses, SARS-CoV-2 uses ribonucleic acids (RNA) as its replicated genetic material and its template for translating proteins. The RNA genome of the virus enters the cell; the latter translates it into the proteins necessary for the virus to replicate. Current research has largely focused on the function of these proteins encoded by the virus. However, little is known about viral RNAs and their interaction with the host during the different stages of the viral life cycle. This is where Munschauer's research group takes action.

“My team and I plan to use the ERC Starting Grant to investigate the interplay between the RNAs of SARS-CoV-2 and factors of the host cell. We want to decipher how these interactions shape the viral RNA life cycle and the defense mechanisms of the host,” says Munschauer. The global COVID-19 pandemic shows how important it is to better understand its pathogen – and the many emerging variants – on a molecular level. In the long term, this could also create new opportunities for RNA-based antiviral therapies and immunotherapies, the researcher says.

Mathias Munschauer is already the third scientist at HIRI to be awarded an ERC Grant by the European Research Council. In 2020, Chase Beisel started his project “CRISPR Combo” funded by an ERC Consolidator Grant. Neva Caliskan began her work on “T-FRAME” in 2021, which is financed by an ERC Starting Grant.

About Mathias Munschauer

Mathias Munschauer studied biotechnology at the Mannheim University of Applied Sciences until 2010. During this time, he undertook several research stays in the USA. After his dissertation at Freie Universität Berlin in 2014, he worked in various renowned laboratories such as the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, doing innovative research on RNA. In July 2019, he joined HIRI through the Helmholtz Young Investigator Group Program as head of an independent Helmholtz Young Investigator Group.

More about Munschauer

About HIRI

The Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI) is the first institution worldwide to combine ribonucleic acid (RNA) research with infection biology. Based on novel findings from its strong basic research program, the institute's long-term goal is to develop innovative therapeutic approaches to better diagnose and treat human infections.

HIRI is a joint venture of the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig and the Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg (JMU) and is located on the Würzburg Medical Campus.

ERC Starting Grants

ERC Starting Grants are funding instruments of the European Research Council to support young scientists in their efforts to become independent top researchers. At the time of application, a maximum of seven years may have passed since the candidate has obtained their doctoral degree. The only explicit evaluation criterion is the scientific excellence of the researchers and the proposed project. The successful projects are funded for up to five years with a total amount of up to 1.5 million euros.

The European Research Council

The European Research Council, established by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organization for excellent cutting-edge research. Each year it selects the best and most creative researchers of any nationality and funds projects based in Europe. The ERC offers four core-funding programs: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept Grant Program, the ERC helps grant holders to bridge the gap between their frontier research and the early stages of commercialization.

Britta Grigull

Press contact

Dr Britta Grigull