German Research Foundation approves new research training group investigating the evolution of gene regulation

New Research Training Group "Gene Regulation in Evolution: From Molecular to Extended Phenotypes" gives a boost to Mainz University as a major center of research in the life sciences

20 May 2019

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved the establishment of the "GenEvo – Gene Regulation in Evolution: From Molecular to Extended Phenotypes" Research Training Group (RTG) at the Faculty of Biology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) with effect from July 2019. This RTG, working in cooperation with the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB), will offer a structured, high-caliber research and training program enabling its PhD students to acquire interdisciplinary qualifications and obtain autonomy at an early stage of their scientific careers. The scientific objective of GenEvo is to gain a better understanding of the evolution of complex and multi-layered genetic regulation systems. The DFG will provide some EUR 5 million to the RTG over the first funding period of four and a half years, plus another EUR 1 million in overhead funding to bolster the strategic orientation of the university.

Rhineland-Palatinate's Minister of Science, Continuing Education, and Culture, Professor Konrad Wolf, welcomed the decision by the DFG to fund this project: "The approval of the research training group at Mainz University is an outstanding achievement and we have to thank all academics involved for their huge commitment," he said. "The new group is evidence for the university's success in building its specific life sciences profile, which has received support from the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate in recent years through its Research Initiative. I warmly congratulate all those involved."

In order to achieve its scientific objectives, GenEvo will bring together researchers from the fields of evolutionary and molecular biology. "We will analyze which regulatory processes are retained by evolutionary processes, which ones change quickly, and what forms of selection they are subject to. By transferring methods developed for model organisms to other taxa, we will be able to investigate the evolution of gene regulation in a broad phylogenetic and population-genetic context," pointed out Professor Susanne Foitzik of the Institute of Organismic and Molecular Evolution at JGU, who, along with René Ketting at IMB, coordinates the RTG.

With its interdisciplinary focus and, in particular, its cooperation with IMB, GenEvo will provide training to interdisciplinary cohorts of doctoral students in fields which are rarely combined, such as evolutionary biology, epigenetics, gene regulation, omics technologies, and bioinformatics. "The interdisciplinary GenEvo group will contribute to enhancing the profile of Mainz as an internationally visible and attractive location for life sciences research," emphasized the President of Mainz University, Professor Georg Krausch. "The new research training group underlines once again the importance that our university attaches to the training of young researchers – especially across disciplinary boundaries."

The graduate students for the structured research and training program will be selected through a competitive international recruitment process. In the first funding phase, 28 doctoral students funded directly by GenEvo and 28 associated PhD candidates will benefit from various levels of supervision. They will each be directly supervised by two scientists, one from each field of evolutionary and molecular biology, a PhD buddy, and an interdisciplinary doctoral committee. GenEvo will offer a broad education in the areas covered through specialist lectures, applied methods courses, and the teaching of essential soft skills. The program also includes in-house networking events aimed at fostering the development of a close-knit research community and promoting the exchange of ideas. Events involving eminent researchers at international conferences and summer schools will supplement the program.