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Professor Gaspar Jekely

Multi-million funding boost for research into the origin and evolution of vision

A Neuroscience expert from the University of Exeter has been awarded multi-million pound funding to investigate the origin and evolution of vision across the animal kingdom. 

Professor Gaspar Jekely, from the University of Exeter’s Living Systems Institute, has received a grant of more than €3 million to conduct pioneering new research into how nervous systems interpret light cues. 

The substantial funding was awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) under its 2020 Advanced Grants scheme. Professor Jekely’s research is one of 209 grants awarded to across Europe, worth a total of €507 million in the most recent announcement made today (April 22). 

Professor Jekely’s project, called PROTOEYE, will use cutting edge light and electron microscopy to reconstruct the entire nervous system - including the eyes - of several marine planktonic organisms.  

The research will also develop new technologies to study how these planktonic animals respond to light - an important signal of their surroundings to orient in the open ocean. 

Professor Jekely said: “I am very delighted and grateful to have received this substantial funding from the ERC, which will allow me to address fundamental questions about eye evolution and to dissect the neuronal bases of light-driven behaviours in marine animals." 

“The ERC funding will allow my laboratory to extend our collaborations and work together with scientists in the US, UK, EU and Taiwan on an unconventional and curiosity-driven project. I am very excited and looking forward to embarking on this five-years research journey.” 

The full title of Professor Jekely’s research is “From light detection to vision – revealing diversity of function of simple eyes and light-responsive behaviours to enlighten eye evolution”. 

Speaking at the announcement of the Advanced Grants, ERC President Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon said: “For this last ERC call under Horizon 2020, over 200 researchers will be funded to follow their scientific instinct and dreams. Still, the great increase in demand led to a very fierce competition: only 8% of candidates were successful. We look forward to seeing what major insights and breakthroughs will spring from this investment and trust. "

The Living Systems Institute is the University of Exeter research flagship. The Institute combines biological and physical sciences to make discoveries that will transform future healthcare Living Systems Institute | Living Systems Institute | University of Exeter.

Date: 22 April 2021