Isabel Gordo awarded IGC’s 20th ERC Grant

30 mar 2023

The IGC principal investigator, Isabel Gordo, is among the four Portuguese researchers awarded with an ERC Advanced Grant. The four new projects in ​​life sciences, will receive in total 11.5M€. This number, awarded in the same competition, is a new record for our country.

In Portugal, together with Isabel, the other winning scientists are Maria Manuel Mota (João Lobo Antunes Institute of Molecular Medicine, iMM), Mariana Pinho (ITQB-NOVA) and Henrique Veiga-Fernandes (Champalimaud Foundation). Each will receive between €2.5M and €3.5M for the development of research projects over the next five years.

Isabel Gordo will lead the project “Evolution in the gut in health and disease” with the total budget of 2.5M€. The project will focus on the microbiota in the mammalian intestine, a complex ecosystem whose ecological and evolutionary rules we do not yet understand. The diversity of the microbiota is associated with states of health or disease. The reason for this association is yet to be discovered.

In this project the researcher aims to unravel how natural selection operates to shape the diversity of bacteria in the gut of healthy and sick hosts. The questions and experiments the researcher will address in the project represent a marriage between the fields of evolution and medicine. The intention is to understand how the evolution of bacteria is altered in the context of diseases: inflammatory bowel diseases, including cancer, and obesity.

Receiving this prestigious ERC, Isabel emphasizes that “for the specific purpose of my project, I am forever indebted to the thoughts of the late Ukrainian-born biologist Ilya Ilyich Metchnikoff and the Russian Leo Tolstoy, whose book “Anna Karenina” inspired the main hypothesis I set out to test in this project. When we all decide to stand on the shoulders of giants, our limit is the sky”. The new ERC will allow the multidisciplinary team, led by Isabel Gordo, to understand fundamental mechanisms in controlled experiments so that, in the future, it will be possible to effectively modulate human and animal microbiome and contribute to a significant health improvement in the context of the ecosystem we live in.

For Mónica Bettencourt-Dias, Director of the IGC, “this ERC is very important for the development of research in evolution and ecology, which is critical to anticipate the future and reduce the impact of several diseases on society”. On the other hand, Mónica adds that this “is the 20th ERC with a large financial volume awarded to Gulbenkian researchers, and in 2023, 40% of our researchers will have one of these active grants, an important milestone for Portugal and Europe.”

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