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VIB’s Inge De Clercq (VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology) has been awarded an ERC starting grant worth €1.5 million. These renowned, highly competitive grants aim to help individual scientists and scholars to build their own teams and conduct pioneering research across all disciplines. With her project COSI, Inge will investigate how plants perceive stress signals and manage their internal 'communication' to trigger the optimal response.  

The start of a great career

ERC Starting Grants are awarded to early-career researchers of any nationality two to seven years after they have obtained their PhD. The applicants are judged on their scientific track record and evidence of great promise. The funding is provided for up to five years. 

The grants are a great starting point for early-career researchers seeking to establish themselves as leading scientists. With the help of the funding, they can set up a team and initiate a research program that will push forward the frontiers of scientific knowledge. Many of the recipients of ERC Starting Grants go on to build impressive and successful academic careers.
Inge remembers how she felt when hearing the news: “It was a special moment for me to hear that my research proposal was selected by the ERC. I am very grateful for the opportunity to start building my research team and develop this research avenue. I look forward to tackle the emerging research questions in this burgeoning field."

Insider knowledge: communication in plant cells
With her grant, Inge will investigate how plants are able to continuously adapt to changing and often harmful environments, such as drought, extreme temperatures, and pathogen attacks.
These environmental stresses are expected to increase due to climate change, so there is an urgent need to breed tolerant crops. The COSI project aims to understand how plants convey the initial sensing of environmental stimuli at the intra-cellular level into adaptive and defensive responses. 

Inge explains: "We will specifically look at how mitochondria, chloroplasts and the endoplasmic reticulum within the plant cell perceive stress signals and communicate with each other to coordinate and trigger the most suitable response. With the ERC grant, we will be able to study the exciting hypothesis that organelles associate directly through stress-induced COntact SItes (COSI) to enable efficient communication. The outcome of COSI will be a better understanding, and potentially a re-evaluation of the fundamental mechanisms by which plants respond and adapt to stresses."

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