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December 09, 2019

Marek Basler receives prestigious "ERC Consolidator Grant"

Prof. Marek Basler from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, has been awarded one of the prestigious Consolidator Grants by the European Research Council (ERC). In his project, funded with about 2.5 million euros over five years, the infection biologist will study how bacteria aim their “nano-weapon”. This knowledge will help the scientists to better understand how bacteria interact with their environment and cause infections in humans.

Since his time as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Marek Basler has been fascinated by a tiny bacterial injection apparatus, the so-called type 6 secretion system (T6SS). This nanomachine works like a speargun and is used by various bacteria including pathogens to inject deadly toxins into neighboring cells. The T6SS is a powerful bacterial weapon to eliminate rivals and invade host cells. However, it is not only involved in bacterial competition but also in “peaceful” activities such as cell communication and symbiosis.

In the past years, Basler and his team have uncovered many important aspects of this nanosized speargun. They elucidated its molecular structure and provided new and detailed insights into how the T6SS works. Nevertheless, many questions still remain open, for instance how the bacteria position the weapon to take aim at their target.

ERC funds Basler’s research project “AimingT6SS”
In his ERC funded research project, Basler will study four different bacterial species, such as the pneumonia causing pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, to unravel the principles of spatial and temporal control of localization of T6SS assembly. He will investigate how bacteria sense attacks from neighbors and precisely position their speargun to quickly retaliate. As T6SS plays an important role in infectious diseases, knowledge about the mechanism and factors important for T6SS aiming may also open new perspectives for therapeutic interventions against bacterial infections.  

Successful, young scientist
In 2013, Marek Basler was appointed as Assistant Professor of Infection Biology at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2018. His scientific achievements have been recognized with several prizes, including the EMBO Gold Medal and the Friedrich Miescher Award. In 2014, he was awarded a five year “SNSF Starting Grant”, a temporary backup scheme of the Swiss National Science Foundation to the “ERC Starting Grant”. This year, the 41-year-old scientist could convince the ERC to support his research proposal “AimingT6SS”. 

European funding for excellent scientists
Every year, the ERC selects and funds the very best, creative scientists to run projects based in Europe. The ERC Consolidator Grants, a funding instrument within Horizon 2020, are awarded to outstanding and promising young researchers with several years of experience to perform high risk and high potential research. This year, the ERC awarded a Consolidator Grant to three researchers from the University of Basel and 23 researchers in Switzerland.

Contact: Communications, Katrin Bühler