4 December 2015

John Innes Centre scientists awarded prestigious five year european research council starting grants


Two early career scientists at the John Innes Centre (JIC) have been awarded prestigious European Research Council (ERC) starting grants to pursue their chosen areas of research.

Drs Levi Yant and Yiliang Ding will each receive approximately 1.5 million Euros over the next 5 years from the ERC.

Each year a limited number of ERC grants are awarded to researchers, based in European research institutions, who show great promise and submit outstanding research proposals. The aim of the ERC starting grant is to encourage young researchers to stay in Europe, to create excellent new teams which bring energy and new ideas to their disciplines and to support their transition to become the EU’s next generation of research leaders.

Dr Yiliang Ding


Dr Yiliang Ding, a BBSRC David Phillips Fellow, at JIC, has been awarded an ERC grant to investigate the role of RNA structure in RNA degradation in living cells.

RNA plays a central role in the regulation of gene expression. The levels of RNA in a cell depend on the balance between RNA production and degradation. RNA degradation is an active and critical process that dictates RNA levels and directly determines gene expression. However, despite many years of research, important and perplexing questions remain about regulating RNA degradation. Dr Ding will investigate how to regulate RNA degradation in living cells by altering RNA structure. This multidisciplinary project crosses molecular biology, nucleic acid chemistry and bioinformatics. Dr Ding’s research aims to reveal new mechanisms for gene regulation.

Dr Ding said:

“The John Innes Centre provides a great mentoring system to early career scientists. This ERC Starting Grant provides an outstanding opportunity for me to establish my own independent research programme at the frontiers of RNA structure research.”

Dr Levi Yant


Dr Levi Yant is a new project leader who recently joined the JIC from Harvard. He was awarded his ERC grant to analyse how some plant species survive traumatic events in their evolution, such as when a whole genome is duplicated (WGD) and a species nevertheless persists, sometimes thriving. He will test whether diverse species adapt to WGD in similar ways, and if not, what mechanisms operate in different species. This promises to inform our basic understanding of evolution, because WGD adaptation is tied to conserved process that we are only lately recognizing may evolve rapidly, when necessary. It may also help inform rational crop improvement, because many crops, including wheat, have doubled genomes. 

Dr Yant said: “I moved to JIC to be a part of a world-class plant science community: this ERC grant will now enable a high level of interaction between my research programme in evolutionary biology and the diverse groups at JIC, UEA and TGAC.”

Dr Yant and Dr Ding will begin work on their ERC funded research early next year. 

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