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ERC Starting Grant awarded to Clemens Plaschka


03 Sep 2020
Clemens Plaschka. (c) IMP/Beck

The European Research Council (ERC) has selected Clemens Plaschka's research for funding under the Horizon 2020 Excellent Science scheme. His project studying the mechanism of messenger RNA packaging and export will be supported with 1.5 million Euro through a Starting Grant over the next five years.

In eukaryotic organisms, gene expression is partitioned across two cellular compartments: the nucleus, where messenger RNA (mRNA) is produced, and the cytoplasm, where protein translation occurs. mRNA export across the nuclear membrane is highly selective, ensuring that only fully processed and mature mRNA is transported to the cytoplasm. Yet how does the multi-step mRNA maturation process converge to a binary decision, “to export or not to export”? While many of the proteins involved in the packaging and export of nuclear mRNA are known, how a defined set of conserved proteins package and export all nuclear mRNA remains poorly understood. 

Clemens Plaschka's project "Mechanisms of human mRNA packaging and export" (RNApaxport) will use an integrative structural biology approach to determine structural snapshots of key mRNA export intermediates. This is made possible by recent advances in cryo-EM and high-end mass spectrometry that have enabled the study of particularly dynamic and heterogeneous machines involved in gene expression to which Clemens Plaschka made substantial contributions. The project also relies heavily on state-of-the-art infrastructure and expertise available to scientists at the Vienna BioCenter. The work will reveal the mechanisms that underlie an important step of gene expression, which mediates nuclear mRNA quality control and links transcription to translation.

“I am extremely delighted to be awarded an ERC Starting Grant”, says Clemens Plaschka. “It will allow our team to tackle a fascinating problem in gene expression: how are mature mRNA molecules identified, packaged, and transported between two cellular compartments, from their site of production to their site of translation?”

About the ERC funding scheme
The European Research Council (ERC) grant scheme was established in 2007. Starting Grants award up to 1.5 million Euro for a period of 5 years to talented early-career scientists who have demonstrated a potential to develop into leaders in their fields of research. In the current round, two grants were awarded to life science researchers in Austria. Overall, some 13% of applications were selected for funding. Due to the rigorous evaluation underlying this award, the ERC grants can serve as indicators of academic excellence. Clemens Plaschka's Starting Grant is the 19th ERC grant given to an IMP scientist. Of the currently 17 IMP faculty members, 12 are “ERC grantees”, and the IMP's application success rate is an outstanding 58%. 

About Clemens Plaschka
Clemens Plaschka studied biochemistry at Imperial College London before pursuing his PhD in the lab of Patrick Cramer at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. There he made several contributions to the understanding of gene transcription. For his postdoctoral studies, Plaschka joined the group of Kiyoshi Nagai at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge, one of the major centres for cryo-EM development. His work in Cambridge contributed to the mechanistic understanding of RNA processing by a large molecular machine, called the spliceosome. In 2018, Clemens Plaschka joined the IMP as Group Leader. His lab combines biochemistry, structural biology, and functional tools to dissect the mechanisms of gene expression in molecular detail.

Learn more about the research of Clemens Plaschka’s lab here
See all Starting Grants in Life Sciences