Batty about research
“Not every disease is genetic but some diseases have a genetic component,” says McLysaght, an associate professor of genetics at Trinity College Dublin. “And some diseases are caused by having an aberrant copy of a gene, others are caused by having the wrong amount of a gene.”
Prof McLysaght is looking for genes that have not been turning up in the wrong dose over evolutionary time, on the basis that if they don’t stick around they are not tolerated. “You don’t see the duplication not because it never occurred, but because it never survived,” she says, explaining that if extra copies of those genes are turning up in disease today, they may be the ones to look into.
Having five years of funding to dig into the work is an important consideration, for McLysaght. “It gives you a certain continuity and an ability to plan,” she says. “With a three-year grant you almost need to start applying for funding again in the middle of year two. But with a five-year one, you get a good few years where you can concentrate on putting your head down and doing the work.”
ERC awardee Dr Debra Laefer at University College Dublin echoes the benefit of having a good chunk of time and resources to tackle her big question. “It is tremendous, there’s a big sigh of relief,” she says, outlining plans to build up her team and concentrate her energies into one direction rather than several projects, which she compares to “trying to read five novels at once.”
Her ERC-funded project will develop a technique to model and analyse the urban environment. “We did the first comprehensive aerial laser scanning of the downtown area in Dublin,” says Dr Laefer, describing an area from the Liffey south to the northern edge of St Stephen’s Green and between Trinity and George’s Street. “Now, five years later, the technology has changed a lot, it is better and we have an opportunity to refine those techniques and really do some amazing stuff.”
The new project will develop algorithms to computationally model buildings from the scans in three dimensions and help to understand the physical and mechanical behaviours of the structures.
“We are going to be providing an asset to researchers and urban planners and others working in this field,” says Dr Laefer, who is lead principal investigator at the urban modelling group in UCD’s school of civil, structural, and environmental engineering.
Moving from the huge scale to the tiny, Prof Stefano Sanvito will be using his ERC funds – just shy of €1.5 million – to help guide people who want to make devices from organic materials. At the moment we tend to rely heavily on inorganic materials, yet using organic compounds for electronics, sensors and energy storage can open up new opportunities. Picking the right organic materials to use is important, and the new project will screen materials and develop a resource to help people choose.