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EU awards top researchers from 17 countries


The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded grants to 55 researchers from 17 countries to explore the commercial or societal potential of their research results. A spin-off of one of the projects is a tool to detect bacteria and viruses in water.

The grants, which are worth €150,000 each and are part of the EU’s research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020, can be used to explore business opportunities, prepare patent applications or verify the practical viability of scientific concepts.

“The ERC grants announced today is yet another means of EU support to our brightest scientists that will enable them to advance our knowledge across a broad front for the benefit of our societies and economies,” said Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation and Research (27 April).

“Moreover, the coronavirus crisis we are faced with today prompts us to rethink the vital role of science and research in Europe and beyond,” she added. “They are our best hope for progress and best insurance policy against the unexpected.”

The awarded projects cover a variety of topics, for example a faster and cheaper approach to detect disease-causing microorganisms; low-power, energy-harvesting hearing implants; or developing a sustainable social business to manage and ethically distribute donated DNA data to scientists.

The new grants were awarded to researchers working in 17 countries: Austria (1 grant), Switzerland (2), Cyprus (1), Germany (9), Spain (5), Finland (1), France (3), Israel (5), Italy (4), Luxembourg (1), Netherlands (3), Norway (1) Poland (1), Portugal (1), Sweden (3), Turkey (1) and the UK (13).

The ERC, set up by the EU 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 in Europe. The ERC also strives to attract top researchers from anywhere in the world to come to work in Europe.

Among the awarded researchers is Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a professor at the Technical University Berlin, where he leads the Astrobiology Research Group and searches for extraterrestrial life. In the course of his research he developed instruments to detect life on Mars. This included tools to spot microbes and their behavior in the natural environment.

His new Portable Device for Detecting Pathogens (PortPath) for applications on Earth is a spin-off of this work. An easy-to-use software together with low-cost hardware will indicate whether pathogens are present in a water sample. Infectious diseases are caused by pathogens, which include among others bacteria and viruses.

The device promises to be faster and cheaper than previous detection methods, and could be used also by non-medical laypersons. The device will first focus on cholera pathogen, which kills some 140,000 people per year in developing countries. Later, its potential will be tested for detection of other pathogens, as well as in food safety applications.

The Brussels Times