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ERC-Grants: Two new ERC-funded projects at Faculty of Biology

Two early-career researchers from Faculty of Biology have received generously endowed Starting Grants from the European Research Council (ERC) to carry out innovative projects at LMU


In total five early-career researchers at LMU have received Starting Grants from the European Research Council (ERC) for projects in various disciplines. These much sought-after, 5-year grants are each worth approximately 1.5 million euros in all, and are among the most prestigious of all European research awards. Submissions are evaluated solely on the basis of the applicant’s previous scientific record and the quality of the proposed project. Moreover, LMU offers the option of appointment to a Tenure Track Professorship to successful grantees, which can be converted into a permanent faculty position, subject to a positive assessment of performance.

The new grantees and their projects at Faculty of Biology:

erc_gutjahr_130Dr. Caroline Gutjahr has headed an Emmy Noether Group based in the Genetics Section of the Faculty of Biology at LMU since 2015. Her research focuses on the symbiotic relationships between plants and mycorrhizal fungi.In her ERC project, entitled RECEIVE, Gutjahr will investigate the molecular regulation of arbuscular mycorrhiza symbiosis, which is among the most widespread inter-organismal partnerships found in the plant world. The mycorrhizal fungi colonize the root system of the host plant, and provide it with vital inorganic nutrients. The symbiosis also enhances the plant’s resistance to abiotic stresses and to pathogens. Since most crop plants host mycorrhizal fungi, Caroline Gutjahr‘s research is also of eminently practical relevance for agricultural productivity.

Caroline Gutjahr studied Biology in Freiburg and Aberdeen, and completed her Diploma thesis under the direction of Professor Peter Nick at Freiburg University. Following a stint as a Marie Curie Fellow in Professor Paola Bonfante’s group at Turin University, she obtained her PhD under the supervision of Dr. Uta Paszkowski at the universities of Geneva and Lausanne. She moved from Lausanne to LMU in December 2011.

For more information on Caroline Gutjahr’s work, see:


papenfort-smallProf. Dr. Kai Papenfort was appointed Professor of Microbiology at the Faculty of Biology of the LMU in September 2015. His work centers on the genetic mechanisms that enable bacterial pathogens to adapt to diverse ecological niches, and their relevance to pathogenesis.
In his ERC project, Papenfort plans to study the workings of a particular signaling pathway that permits members of bacterial populations to coordinate their behavior. In an earlier study, he had shown that, in Vibrio cholerae (the pathogen causing cholera disease), this signal relay is activated by the chemical compound DPO (3,5-dimethylpyrazin-2-ol). He will now analyze the role of DPO in the interaction between the bacteria and their hosts, with the aim of developing a detailed model of bacterial communication in the context of infection. Such a model could potentially uncover new targets for the development of novel therapeutic agents.

Kai Papenfort studied at the University of Marburg and the MPI for Terrestrial Microbiology, graduating in 2005. He did his doctoral thesis at the MPI for Infection Biology, and obtained his PhD at Berlin’s Humboldt University. Following a stint as a postdoc at the Institute of Infection Biology of Würzburg University, he worked as post-doctoral fellow in the Human Frontiers Science Program at Princeton University, before taking up his present position in Munich.