Research Grant

"Jumping Genes"

Zsuzsanna Izsvák receives a Million Euro grant from the European Research Council

10. 2. 2012 | For her research on "jumping genes", Dr. Zsuzsanna Izsvák was awarded a 1,94 million Euro research grant by the European Research Council ERC. Dr. Izsvák is head of the research group “Mobile DNA” at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin-Buch, Germany. With the help of this funding, she will explore the role of inactivated transposons, or "jumping genes", in the occurrence of diseases in the human genome, like for instance cancer. Her research group comprises nine researchers, the ERC-grant was approved for five years.
Transposons comprise about half of the human genome. They are ancient DNA sections that have crept into the genome of many species, including humans. They can be termed molecular parasites, but they also provide plasticity to the genome. They propagate by jumping to different DNA sections and inserting themselves into their host's genome, thus the name "jumping genes".

Dr. Zsuzsanna Izsvák
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Dr. Zsuzsanna Izsvák

Due to mutations, most jumping genes have lost their mobility within the human genome and have become inactivated. For a long time, these inactive remnants were considered to be functionless. However, recent studies show that transposons are not simply DNA waste but may influence the regulation of gene expression. "The human genome is by far more complex than formerly assumed. Transposable elements could be the salient point for numerous processes in the human body, including diseases", Dr. Izsvák explains. "Studying transposons and their impact is crucial to the understanding of these processes."

With the ERC funds, Dr. Izsvák will study transposon activity under stress induced by environmental influences like toxins or heavy metals, and she will research a possible correlation between transposons and cancer. Together with her team, she will also study the possible application of artificial transposons in gene therapy.

Dr. Izsvák has worked in the field of transposon research for more than twenty years. After extensive research at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis/USA and at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam, the Hungarian scientist joined the MDC in 1999. She has been head of the research group "Mobile DNA" since 2004. The same year, she received the European Young Investigators Award (EURYI) for her research on mobile genetic elements, with a prize money of more than one million Euros.

Along with Dr. Izsvák, nine researchers have received the prestigious ERC funding, including: Prof. Gary Lewin, Prof. Thomas Jentsch (Leibniz-Institute of Molecular Pharmacology, FMP/MDC), Prof. Michael Gotthardt, Dr. Jan-Erik Siemens, Dr. James Poulet, Dr. Matthew N. Poy, Prof. Klaus Rajewsky and Dr. Francesca Spagnoli.   (© Max-Delbrück-Center for Molecular Medicine Berlin-Buch)
Barbara Bachtler

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