Researchers want to find out how viruses communicate

The different “languages” used by viruses will be investigated by a new research project at the University of Exeter.

Recent research has shown that many phages (viruses that affect bacteria) use “molecular communication” to coordinate infections – deciding when to lie dormant and when to replicate in infected cells.

Professor Edze Westra will lead a team to dig deeper into this question, supported by a new two million euro grant from the European Research Council (ERC).

Phages are the most abundant biological entities on Earth, and Phage therapy offers a promising alternative to antibiotics.

“I am absolutely delighted that my ERC Consolidator Grant proposal has been selected for funding,” said Professor Westra, from Institute of Environment and Sustainability at the Penryn Exeter campus in Cornwall.

“It will allow me to work on one of the most exciting areas of virology for the next five years, understanding why and how viruses communicate with each other.”

He added: “Different phages use different communication molecules to coordinate infections, causing them to speak different languages.

“The discovery that viruses can communicate to make group decisions about their infection strategy raises many pressing questions.

“How widespread is the ability of viruses to communicate? Why don’t all viruses communicate? What drives the diversification of viral communication systems?

The team will combine theoretical, experimental and observational approaches to answer these questions, making it the first research project to address the evolutionary ecology of viral communication systems.

The ERC announced a total of 313 new Consolidator Grants, with funding of €632 million.

The grants will support mid-career researchers and help them strengthen their teams and conduct pioneering research.

Under the EU’s Horizon Europe programme, this new round of grants will create around 1,900 jobs for postdoctoral fellows, doctoral students and other staff at 189 host institutions.

ERC Chair Professor Maria Leptin said: “Even in times of crisis, conflict and suffering, it is our duty to keep science on track and to let our minds run wild. brighter to explore their ideas.

“We don’t know today how their work could revolutionize tomorrow – we know they will open new horizons, satisfy our curiosity and most likely help us prepare for unpredictable future challenges.

“I am therefore delighted to see a new group of ERC grantees funded for their scientific journey. I wish them well on their journey to push the frontiers of our knowledge.”


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