DFG renews funding for the Research Training Group GenEvo at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz


The German Research Foundation (DFG) has announced that it will renew funding for the Research Training Group (RTG) on “Gene Regulation in Evolution” (GenEvo) for another four and a half years. The RTG was established in 2019 at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB), Mainz.

Over the past four and a half years, IMB and JGU have made significant advances in unravelling the role of gene regulation in adaptation and evolution by combining evolutionary and molecular biology within this doctoral training programme. As a result, the DFG has agreed to extend funding for the Research Training Group 2526 "Gene Regulation in Evolution: From Molecular to Extended Phenotypes" (GenEvo) with approximately €7 million over the next 4.5 years. "This is a fantastic success based on our achievements in recent years. And we want to continue this success story with our doctoral students in the second funding period", says Prof. Susanne Foitzik, spokesperson of GenEvo. GenEvo is based within JGU's Department of Biology and is organised in close cooperation with the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB).

For this second period, 13 additional doctoral students will be recruited to work on projects in the field of gene regulation in evolution. Initially, they will overlap with 14 doctoral students from the first funding period who are still completing their projects. This will facilitate scientific exchange between the two groups. "GenEvo is designed to allow experienced scientists to support and train younger people in their interdisciplinary research and encourage them in their personal development", explains Prof. Foitzik. This approach has been highly successful: to date, 25 research papers have been published by GenEvo researchers, some in renowned scientific journals such as Nature. Former GenEvo members have also accepted prestigious job offers in Germany or abroad.

Key questions: What role does gene regulation play in evolutionary adaptation? How do gene regulatory processes evolve?

GenEvo is a network of experts and young scientists jointly researching key questions such as what role gene regulation plays in evolutionary adaptations and how complex gene regulatory systems have developed. The link from an organism’s genotype (i.e. its genetic makeup) to its phenotype (i.e. appearance) is complex. Phenotypic variation mainly results from differences in gene activity. Although various regulatory mechanisms are known, their influence and the extent to which they interact to produce phenotypic variation is largely unknown.

"It is particularly exciting to look at the role of gene regulation against the background of evolution and to investigate how gene regulatory mechanisms have changed over time and continue to develop", says Prof. René Ketting (IMB), who is the programme's co-spokesperson. GenEvo will be supported in its future research by new members with new scientific ideas, including Humboldt Professor and theoretical evolutionary biologist Prof. Hanna Kokko, who brings mathematical modelling techniques to the RTG. New questions are also being raised, such as to what extent epigenetic traits can be inherited and the role of gene expression for sex determination in different organisms. The role of gene regulation in the evolution of ageing processes is also a focus of the programme.

GenEvo continues to have a high proportion of women and international members in the second phase

Although research – especially in the laboratory – was particularly difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of GenEvo doctoral students have already completed their degrees or are about to do so. "The students have done a great job and deeply impressed the reviewers. We are all proud of their achievements", says Prof. Foitzik. For the second phase of GenEvo, the members are also extremely international, with over 50% of doctoral students and their supervisors coming from abroad. The proportion of women is just as high, with over half at all levels, from doctoral students to senior researchers.

DFG Research Training Groups for the promotion of early career researchers

Research Training Groups are programmes that promote early career researchers and are funded by the DFG for a maximum of nine years. Doctoral students work within a thematically focused research programme with a structured curriculum. The aim is to prepare them for a career in science and support them in their scientific independence.

Further details

For more information on GenEvo, please visit www.genevo-rtg.de

About the Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH

The Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH (IMB) is a centre of excellence in the life sciences that was established in 2011 on the campus of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). Research at IMB focuses on the cutting-edge fields of epigenetics, genome stability, ageing and RNA biology. The institute is a prime example of successful collaboration between a private foundation and government: The Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation has committed 154 million euros to be disbursed from 2009 until 2027 to cover the operating costs of research at IMB. The State of Rhineland-Palatinate has provided approximately 50 million euros for the construction of a state-of-the-art building and is giving a further 52 million in core funding from 2020 until 2027. For more information about IMB, please visit: www.imb.de.

About Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) is a globally recognized research-driven university with around 31,000 students from over 120 nations. Its core research areas are in particle and hadron physics, the materials sciences, and translational medicine. JGU's success in Germany's Excellence Strategy program has confirmed its academic excellence: In 2018, the research network PRISMA+ (Precision Physics, Fundamental Interactions and Structure of Matter) was recognized as a Cluster of Excellence – building on its forerunner, PRISMA. Moreover, excellent placings in national and international rankings as well as numerous honors and awards demonstrate the research and teaching quality of Mainz-based researchers and academics. Further information at www.uni-mainz.de/eng

Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation

The Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization that is committed to the promotion of the medical, biological, chemical, and pharmaceutical sciences. It was established in 1977 by Hubertus Liebrecht (1931–1991), a member of the shareholder family of the Boehringer Ingelheim company. Through its funding programmes Plus 3, Exploration Grants and Rise up!, the Foundation supports excellent scientists during critical stages of their careers. It also endows the international Heinrich Wieland Prize, as well as awards for up-and-coming scientists in Germany. In addition, the Foundation funds institutional projects in Germany, such as the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg. www.boehringer-ingelheim-stiftung.de/en

Press contact for further information

Dr Ralf Dahm, Director of Scientific Management

Institute of Molecular Biology gGmbH (IMB), Ackermannweg 4, 55128 Mainz, Germany

Phone: +49 (0) 6131 39 21455, Email: press(at)imb.de