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£2.2 million grant to support five years of research in the field of synthetic chemistry

Molecules that change shape in response to light mimic the way that that organisms respond to what they see

Molecules that change shape in response to light mimic the way that organisms respond to what they see University of Bristol

University of Bristol

1 April 2020

Jonathan Clayden has been awarded a €2.5M (£2.2M) Advanced Grant from the ERC, one of nine awards in chemistry across the whole of Europe, of which two came to the UK. The project in the field of synthetic chemistry is entitled 'Artificial Translation with Dynamic Foldamers: Relaying Encoded Messages into Chemical Function'

This project will bring together a team of researchers to design and build molecules that are capable of reading chemical codes and converting them into useful function. Life does this using complex biochemical mechanisms to translate the genetic code of DNA into behaviour, but the aim of this work is to design new, simpler and more general ways to get synthetic molecules to interpret a code and to carry out instructions.

The molecules in question will do this by communicating with one another through changes in shape and charge distribution. The work will have many applications, from controlling catalysis to sending chemical messages into cells, and will reveal what can and can’t be done in using molecules to process information.

Jonathan Clayden says of the project 'We plan to steal one of Nature’s greatest conceptual inventions – that a simple chemical code can create complex behaviour – and use it to design new networks of communicating molecules. This is blue skies, open ended research, but we hope that the breakthroughs we make in the next five years will have an impact on molecular and medical science in the next generation and beyond.'

Professor Jens Marklof, Dean of Science at the University of Bristol, added: 'ERC Advanced Grants are amongst the most prestigious research grants in Europe, providing multi-million Euro awards to world-leading scientists.'

The President of the European Research Council (ERC), Professor Mauro Ferrari, said: 'I am glad to announce a new round of ERC grants that will back cutting-edge, exploratory research, set to help Europe and the world to be better equipped for what the future may hold.'

'That’s the role of blue-sky research. These senior research stars will cut new ground in a broad range of fields, including the area of health. I wish them all the best in this endeavour and, at this time of crisis, let me pay tribute to the heroic and invaluable work of the scientific community as a whole.'


Further information

About the ERC

The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premiere European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between their pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation.

To date, the ERC has funded some 9,000 top researchers at various stages of their careers, and over 50,000 postdocs, PhD students and other staff working in their research teams. The ERC strives to attract top researchers from anywhere in the world to come to Europe. Key global research funding bodies, in the United States, China, Japan, Brazil and other countries, have concluded special agreements to provide their researchers with opportunities to temporarily join ERC grantees' teams.

The ERC is led by an independent governing body, the Scientific Council. The ERC President is Professor Mauro Ferrari. The overall ERC budget from 2014 to 2020 is more than €13 billion, as part of the Horizon 2020 programme, for which the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel is responsible.

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