Published: 09-12-2016 08:35 | Updated: 13-12-2016 11:00

Funding from ERC to track cells by using DNA origami

Congratulations to Björn Högberg, Associate Professor and group leader at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, who was recently awarded the ERC Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council, for the project 'Cellular Position Tracking Using DNA Origami Barcodes'. The grant is aimed at young research leaders and provides 2 million euros over a five year period.

What are you going to do?
"We are developing a new system for tracking cells in experiments with transcriptomics, to map the activity of different genes at a given time point. Many labs, in particular at KI, now do transcriptomics on single cells. One problem is that, in most cases we do not know exactly where the individual cells have been located in the tissue. By making a sort of address tag of a nanostructure made of DNA, known as DNA origami, which can be read by both microscopy and sequencing, we hope to be able to correlate the transcriptome to the exact original location of the cell in the tissue."

What does it mean for you to get this kind of funding?
"It is big. ERC is known to provide funding for the best research. It is a confirmation that we are doing good research. It is also a much-needed addition to the research group's finances and will allow us to immerse ourselves in research that we otherwise might not have dared to do."

Do you have any advice for others applying for ERC?
"Don’t hesitate to apply and don’t just apply once. This was the second time I applied and the first time I was a little burnt by the whole process so it took two years before I had the energy to apply again. It feels as though the chances of getting the grant are slim. You have to be lucky with the reviewers and with the panel, so the more times you have the energy to apply the greater your chance will be."

How have you celebrated?
"We had a small party in the lab when I found out about it. We will also go out to eat dinner together, since it is really thanks to all my talented lab members that this finally became a reality. I especially want to mention my PhD student Ferenc Fördös, who has been integral in conducting the preliminary work."