26 April 2022

ERC Advanced Grants for Alexander van Oudenaarden and Takashi Hiiragi

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Alexander van Oudenaarden and Takashi Hiiragi, both group leaders at the Hubrecht Institute, each receive a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant. It is the second ERC Advanced Grant for Hiiragi and the third for Van Oudenaarden. This round, 75 out of 501 proposals were selected for funding.

Both group leaders receive up to 3 million euros for their projects. The summaries of their projects are listed below.

Van Oudenaarden: measuring protein production in individual cells

Proteins are essential for cells. The types of proteins that are present within a cell determine, amongst other things, the shape, activity and function of the cell. Skin cells for example produce and carry different proteins than liver cells.
Protein production takes place via two steps: transcription and translation. During transcription, a section of the DNA in the cell is read and copied by the cell. During translation, these copies – so-called mRNA molecules – function as recipes. The protein factories of the cell, the ribosomes, use these recipes to produce the proteins the cell needs.

The lab of Alexander van Oudenaarden recently developed a technique that enables them to measure translation in individual cells. In other words, with this technique it is now possible to measure how many proteins are produced per cell. In their new project, the group will develop new methods that allow for even more detailed measurements in individual cells, such as the efficiency of the ribosomes. With these techniques, the lab aims to provide detailed insight into the process of translation.

Image van Oudenaarden



Alexander van Oudenaarden is group leader at the Hubrecht Institute and professor of quantitative biology of gene regulation at the University Medical Center Utrecht and Utrecht University.



Hiiragi: coordination of development in space and time

During different phases of the development of embryos, cells change places and shapes. The goal of the Hiiragi lab is to find out how embryonic development is regulated and how cells ‘know’ where in the embryo they need to be at a certain time. The group studies this coordination mechanism using mouse embryos as they implant in the uterus.

Hiiragi and his colleagues previously developed 3D microscopies which allow them to visualize how the cells of an early embryo gradually develop. In their new project, they will study the regulation of this development as embryos begin to interact with uterus. At a cellular level, they will focus on what controls cell division and growth. Once the embryo is developed, the researchers aim to uncover how the size of the embryo is regulated and how this affects when certain developmental processes start. Finally, they will research the influence of the interactions between the embryo and the uterus on these processes.

Portrait picture Takashi Hiiragi



Takashi Hiiragi is group leader at the Hubrecht Institute.


European Research Council

The European Research Council (ERC) awards grants to individual scientists of all nationalities and ages based on scientific excellence. The Advanced Grants are specifically awarded to established scientists who lead their own research groups and aim to pursue a ground-breaking, high-risk project.