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Dr Kirsty Wan will pioneer new research into how single-cell organisms can display complex behavioural traits despite not having a nervous system

Rising research star receives prestigious ERC funding award

A rising research star at the University of Exeter has received a significant funding boost from the European Research Council (ERC), it has been announced.

Dr Kirsty Wan, a Research Fellow at the Living Systems Institute (LSI) has received a five-year grant from the respected research council, through its ‘Starting Grants’ funding scheme.

Dr Wan is amongst a cohort of researchers form across Europe to receive a share of €621 million, allocated by the ERC to talented early career researchers to fund their own research teams and pioneering projects.

For the project, called EvoMotion and which received a grant of € 1,950,430, Dr Wan will pioneer new research into how single-cell organisms can display complex behavioural traits despite not having a nervous system.

These investigations will develop new techniques in which scientists can probe the limits of single cell organisms, and their capacity to perceive and interact with their surroundings.

Dr Wan said: “I am delighted to have received this substantial grant from the ERC, which will give me a unique opportunity to develop my ideas.

“We know that even single-cell organisms are capable of complex behaviours, to some extent they can be said to have a sense of self - that recognition of where their own membranous boundaries end and where their environment begins.

“Even the simplest organisms have an innate ability to explore and react purposefully to their surroundings, improve their circumstances, and outcompete other cells. My team will seek out new interdisciplinary approaches to understanding exactly how this happens.

“There are few grants that allow researchers complete freedom to explore unconventional ideas, that value rather than penalise curiosity-driven research. I am therefore incredibly grateful to the ERC for funding this research.”

Four hundred and eight early-career researchers have been awarded European Research Council grants in this year’s first completed ERC competition.

The highly-coveted funding will help individual scientists and scholars to build their own teams and conduct pioneering research across all disciplines. The grants, worth in total €621 million, are part of the EU’ Research and Innovation programme, Horizon 2020.

Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said: “Researchers need freedom and support to follow their scientific curiosity if we are to find answers to the most difficult challenges of our age and our future. This is the strength of the grants that the EU provides through the European Research Council: an opportunity for outstanding scientists to pursue their most daring ideas.”

Date: 3 September 2019