Alessandro Bertero is awarded an ERC starting GRANT: «We will discover how the structure of DNA influences heart disease»

The project by the researcher from the Department of Molecular Biotechnology and Health Sciences has been awarded an EU grant of over EUR 1,700,000 for the next five years. Among the objectives are new therapies capable of restoring the correct structure of DNA

The heart of the matter: a cardiomyocyte differentiated from stem cells, with its contractile machinery stained in magenta and yellow. The white nucleus contains the genetic code that is interpreted by each cell type in a unique way: TRANS-3 will dive into these mechanisms to shed light on how chromosomes functionally interact to regulate expression of key cardiac proteins in a manner that could be disrupted in human disease. Credits: Alessandro Bertero

The European Research Council (ERC), the European Union body that supports scientific excellence through competitive funding, awarded the project TRANS-3 – Beyond the chromosome: unravelling the interplay between inter-chromosomal genome architecture and mRNA biogenesis led by Alessandro Bertero, Professor of Applied Biology at the Department of Molecular Biotechnology and Health Sciences at the University of Turin and winner of the Armenise Harvard Career Development Award in 2021.

Only seven Italian researchers, one of whom is Bertero, have won the ERC in this round in the Life Sciences sector.

The project will study how the various DNA molecules, the chromosomes, are folded in such a way that they function in a coordinated manner. The DNA of a single human cell is almost two meters long, but has to be packed into a nucleus about a hundredth of a millimeter wide. This research will provide insight into how errors in this process cause serious heart disease and could lead to new types of therapies that can restore the correct DNA structure.

TRANS-3 has a budget of €1,700,000 over five years and will officially start on 1 September, 2023. The €270,000 above the ‘standard’ ERC Starting Grant ceiling was awarded for the purchase of a super-resolution microscope, the first of its kind at UniTo. According to ERC data, for the Starting Grant 2022 there were 2,932 applications of which only 408 were selected (13.9%). This brings to 7 the number of projects to be carried out in Italy in the Life Sciences sector, an area in which UniTo is one of the poles of excellence. In the more specific field of molecular, structural and biochemistry biology, the University of Turin can boast not only Bertero but also another ERC winner: Chiara Ambrogio, also a researcher and Professor in the Department of Molecular Biotechnology and Health Sciences, who was awarded a Consolidator Grant in 2020. As Bertero, Ambrogio also won the Armenise Harvard Foundation’s Career Development Award.