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Taking Microbiome Research to the Next Level

Lagt online: 22.11.2022

Microbes are the basis for all processes in our ecosystems, and for years Mads Albertsen has explored their DNA. With the aid of the first ERC Starting Grant for Aalborg University he is now ready to explore a new frontier in DNA research; What microbes eat, and how they grow.

Nyhed

Taking Microbiome Research to the Next Level

Lagt online: 22.11.2022

Microbes are the basis for all processes in our ecosystems, and for years Mads Albertsen has explored their DNA. With the aid of the first ERC Starting Grant for Aalborg University he is now ready to explore a new frontier in DNA research; What microbes eat, and how they grow.

Today Professor Mads Albertsen at Department of Chemistry & Bioscience has received a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). The ERC Starting Grant is the first for any researcher at Aalborg University.

Mapping microbial life through DNA sequencing has been one of the leading goals in Mads Albertsen’s career, and today’s support from ERC makes it possible to take on a challenge on a new level. To thoroughly understand the nature of microbes Albertsen and his team members will develop new high-throughput methods to explore which microbes are active. Based on the latest DNA sequencing technology from Oxford Nanopore they will develop machine learning models to detect incorporation synthetic DNA bases in order to observe bacterial growth in complex microbial communities.

I want to do my best to lift the field of microbial studies to a new level by developing new high-throughput methods to study what microbes eat, which is a large bottleneck for understanding microbial communities, says Albertsen.

Professor Mads Albertsen, Department of Chemistry & Bioscience

Facts about The European Research Council (ERC)

  • The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe.
  • The aim of the grants is to help excellent younger scientists, who have 2 to 7 years’ experience after their PhDs, to launch their own projects, form their teams and pursue their most promising ideas.
  • The ERC has awarded 636 million € in grants to emerging science talent across Europe in November 2022.
  • 1.224 ERC Starting Grant applications have been sent to ERC in 2022 within physical sciences and engineering – 168 have been granted.
  • Applicants from Germany and the UK receive by far the most grants.

Microbial communities play a vital role in most processes in the biosphere and are essential for solving present and future environmental challenges. Examples include the impact of the human microbiome on health and disease, discovery of new antibiotics, turning waste products into valuables. In essence, life would rapidly cease to exist in a world without microbes.

However the majority of microbes remain undescribed; also known as the “microbial dark matter”.

- We know very little about microbes, even though they are the basis of all processes in our ecosystems and affect all aspects of life. A motivation for me has been the large potential to contribute with microbial solutions to solve some of the world’s challenges when it comes to sustainability.

In the past 10 years, new methods have revolutionized researchers access to the genomes of the microbial dark matter and have sparked an explosion of new fundamental discoveries based on genomic evidence. NanoEat will contribute to this dynamic development in research.

About NanoEat

NanoEat is the first ERC Starting Grant for any Aalborg University researcher.

The detailed aims of Project NanoEat are to:

  1. Supercharge recovery of microbial genomes from complex samples, by read-based binning of metagenomes utilizing de novo identification of DNA modifications enabled by Nanopore sequencing.
  2. Decipher what microbes eat in complex communities at scale, by taking advantage of synthetic nucleotide analogs that will be incorporated in microbes when they grow and can be detected by Nanopore sequencing.
  3. Enable large-scale, time-resolved, and replicated experiments, though scale-down of Nanopore library preparation.

Department of Chemistry & Bioscience is along with other departments at Aalborg University putting an increased focus on building a strong community across data science projects and traditional biotech projects. Today’s grant from the ERC is an example of that as well as the VILLUM Synergy-project DarkScience, a cooperation with Department of Computer Science.

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