£1.9 million for the next generation of research leaders at the University of Warwick

  • Researchers from the University of Warwick were awarded grants among 84 promising future leaders in research and innovation
  • Coming from the UK and around the world, they will research major global issues and commercialize their innovations at UK universities and businesses
  • Mushroom-derived megaenzymes that could be reused for drugs being studied by Warwick chemists
  • While at Warwick, statisticians will find ways to predict how the surfaces formed by a variety of phenomena will grow

Reprogramming fungal megaenzymes for use in medicine and predicting how phenomena such as bacterial colonies and crystal formations grow their surfaces are at the heart of two University of Warwick projects totaling £1.9 million from UK Research and Innovation announced funding.

84 of the most promising research leaders will benefit from £98m to tackle key global issues and commercialize their innovations in the UK.

Research at the University of Warwick is among the cutting-edge projects funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)’s flagship program Future Leaders Fellowships. Those receiving funding will address global issues ranging from climate change to the exploitation of women in global apparel supply chains, and it will help take the researchers’ innovative ideas from the lab to the market.

Over £1.9 million has been allocated to research at the University of Warwick.

dr Matthew Jenner from the University’s Department of Chemistry has been awarded £1.25 million for the ‘Dissecting and Harnessing Carrier Protein Interactions in Fungal Megasynth(et)ases’ project. This will be Dr. Enabling Jenner to study megaenzymes in mushrooms to reuse them for medicinal purposes.

dr Matthew Jenner from the Department of Chemistry said: “Our work aims to understand the structure, interactions and cryptic programming patterns of fungal polyketide synthases. These are giant, multidomain proteins responsible for the biosynthesis of a large number of biologically active natural products with important applications in modern medicine. The precise construction of these complex compounds is based on highly programmed interactions within these enzymes.

“Despite the importance of these interactions, they remain poorly understood as they require a combination of techniques to be studied effectively. Uncovering the molecular factors that control programming is the biggest remaining problem in our understanding of fungal PKSs and represents a major obstacle to rewiring these enzymes into custom molecules.

“I am incredibly honored and grateful to receive this prestigious UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship. The long-term support will enable me to assemble a highly interdisciplinary team of UK and international researchers to address a long-standing problem in the field of natural product biosynthesis. I thank everyone involved for supporting this proposal and I look forward to the scientific challenges that lie ahead.”

£697,816 was awarded to Dr. Giuseppe Cannizzaro of the Department of Statistics, who will use statistics to study and predict how various phenomena grow on their surfaces, from bacterial colonies to crystal formations.

dr Giuseppe Cannizzaro from the Department of Statistics said: “It was great to be awarded the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship. On the one hand it is a recognition of the research I have been doing, on the other hand it allows me to fully devote myself to my research goals and to further expand their scope.

“My project lies at the interface of probability, stochastics and statistical mechanics and aims to gain a deeper understanding of complex physical systems. It revolves around the concept of universality – the observation that many phenomena, which can look very different, share the same large-scale universal laws.

“Identifying and studying these laws in a sound and rigorous mathematical manner is an extremely powerful tool in the hands of researchers, as it enables highly accurate quantitative and qualitative predictions about extremely complicated and diverse-looking real-world systems. The type of systems on which my proposal examines universality is that of systems that describe random surface growth phenomena that occur naturally in a variety of physical and biological contexts, such as burn fronts or bacterial colonies, crystal growth on thin films, and others.

“The grant will allow me to answer these fundamental questions and explore the connections between the novel tools and techniques I will develop and their applicability to more applied sciences.”

Pursuit of new research and innovation ideas

UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said:

“The Future Leaders Fellowships offer researchers and innovators the freedom and generous long-term support to advance adventurous new ideas and move across disciplinary boundaries and between academia and industry.

“The grantees announced today are shining examples of talented researchers and innovators from all disciplines, being attracted to pursue their ideas at universities and companies across the UK, with the potential to deliver transformative research that impacts society and business can be felt.”

£100m new support for more grants

Building on the success of the £900m invested in the first six rounds of the Future Leaders Fellowship, UKRI has committed an additional £100m to a seventh round.

The scheme helps UK universities and companies to recruit, develop and retain the world’s best researchers and innovators, whatever their background. Researchers can apply for large-scale long-term funding to support their research or innovation and to develop their careers, with each grant lasting four to seven years.

The projects will be an important part of the Government’s drive to cement the UK’s status as a world leader in science, research and innovation.

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