EU funding for research into giant viruses
ERC Consolidator grant for group leader Matthias Fischer
Dr. Matthias Fischer, group leader at the MPI for Medical Research in Heidelberg, has been awarded a prestigious Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council. His research into the diversity, functions, and evolution of giant viruses will be funded for five years with 2.4 million Euros.
Viruses and their importance
Viruses are primarily known for their role as pathogens and therefore have a notoriously bad reputation. However, their ecological significance is much less well known, for example they are involved in controlling bacterial populations, preserving microbial biodiversity, and increasing nutrient recycling. Viruses are also important for the evolution of cellular life, as they engage their hosts in an evolutionary arms race that leads to molecular evolutions. Despite these important findings, knowledge about the world of viruses is still limited to a few model systems.
Research focus of Matthias Fischer's group
Matthias Fischer's research group has been studying the diversity and infection biology of viruses that reproduce in unicellular plankton for more than a decade. These viruses occur in a wide variety of ecosystems, such as lakes, soils and oceans, and are an important component of the natural microcosm. Fischer is particularly interested in so-called "giant viruses", a largely unexplored group of viruses that have unusually complex genomes and particle structures.
The ERC project "CAPSOLUTION" will enable Fischer and his team to research the diversity, functions, and evolution of giant viruses. Over the next five years, the scientists will explore high-mountain lakes in the Alps for giant viruses and study their special surface structures in the laboratory. Preliminary studies have shown that virus particles from environmental samples often deviate from known patterns. The functions and evolutionary origins of these novel virus structures will be investigated as part of the funded project.
"I am delighted that the European Research Council has decided to support our fundamental research in the field of environmental virology," says Fischer. "Increased research in this area will also benefit other branches of microbiology, because we will learn more about the behavior of viruses in general and thus be able to better assess certain situations. For instance, how easily can viruses switch their hosts, or how adaptable are they under specific environmental conditions."