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The European Research Council awards its Advanced Grants to support excellent scientists at the career stage at which they are already established research leaders with a recognized track record of research achievements in the last 10 years. The funding amounts to a maximum of 2.5 million euros over five years. Over 1,881 projects from all over Europe were submitted to the European Research Council this year, 185 of which were awarded grants. At the University of Zurich, three projects in the field of political science, experimental immunology and molecular biology were awarded ERC Advanced Grants. The UZH will thus receive a total amount of 7.5 million euros.
Digital technology and democracy
Digital technology promises to expand political participation, increase the efficiency of public administration, and make participation in public debates accessible to all. But this enthusiasm goes hand in hand with concerns that digital tools are being misused to manipulate public opinion, influence elections and surveil people. Certain aspects of digital technology are problematic, but opinions differ as to what exactly the problems are, and what exactly the state should do. Prof. Fabrizio Gilardi and his team at the Department of Political Science are developing new theories and methods relying on large amounts of data to identify the development and effects of different discourses regarding the digitalization of democracy. The findings will help us to understand how our societies deal with the consequences of digital technology in the political sphere.
Recognizing patterns in twins with multiple sclerosis
In multiple sclerosis (MS), the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord and causes severe damage. Diagnosing MS is difficult, and it is currently not possible to assess and predict how the disease will progress in individual patients and which treatment option will be most efficient. The team of Prof. Burkhard Becher at the Institute of Experimental Immunology is investigating how MS develops and progresses by analyzing the immune system in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid. To do so, the researchers are examining proteins in patient samples, including those from identical twins suffering from MS, down to the level of individual cells and then reassembling the cellular composition “pixel by pixel” like a digital photo. These “images” of sick and healthy twins can then be compared and used to predict how the disease will develop and help to decide which treatment is best suited to the patient.
Uncovering cross-scale biological effects
The causal structure of systems can be studied at widely varying spatiotemporal scales, ranging from subatomic particles constituting individual atoms to solar systems forming galaxies. Often, it is difficult to connect these different scales. It is even more challenging to differentiate between causal effects that arise at different scales. Currently, bottom-up approaches are pervasive in biology, since macro-scale properties supervene upon the micro-scale, suggesting that once the micro-scale is known, the macro-scale will be known too. This however ignores the fact that at higher scales new properties may arise that can be causally dominant over its micro-scale constituents. The laboratory of Lucas Pelkmans at the Department of Molecular Life Sciences is developing novel technologies that can cross multiple scales in the study of multicellular biological systems, in order to reveal scale-crossing effects. They will focus in particular on those effects that act in a reverse manner from the macro- to the micro-scale, namely where multicellular properties are causally dominant on single-cell behavior, and cellular properties determine molecular activities.