HR Excellence in Science
Date: 23.04.2019

New ERC-CZ grant to uncover some secrets of multicellularity

Almost each cell of single animal or a plant contains the same DNA. However, there is a wide variety of cells with different shapes or functions. How is it brought about? What is it that enabled single-celled ancestral organisms to evolve into complex species composed from hundreds of different cell types? Similar questions will be the subject of the research by Iva Mozgová from Institute of Plant Molecular Biology – Biology Centre CAS, who has just received the ERC-CZ grant of approximately 7.5 million CKZ per year.

The muscle cell, nerve cell, or skin cell are different at first glance and perform distinct functions, although they possess the same set of genes. What is it that makes them different? “It is the fact that only a specific set of genes are active within a specific cell type, while genes that are not needed are switched off”, explains Iva Mozgová. “This for example causes that a particular cell acquires the identity of a liver cell, although it also possesses genes that specify a muscle cell.”

One of the factors, which guarantees that “unnecessary” genes in animal and plant cells are stably switched off is a protein complex called PRC2 (Polycomb Repressive Complex 2). The structure and function of PRC2 is conserved in plants and animals, but paradoxically it is also present in our unicellular relatives. What is PRC2 needed for in organisms whose bodies consist of just one cell? This is one of the questions that Iva Mozgová and her team will try to answer. And there is more. “Our research can reveal how the function of the PRC2 complex has changed during the evolution and whether this change is related to the emergence of multicellular organisms,” noted Iva Mozgova. To find the answers, Iva Mozgová and her team will explore the structure and function of PRC2 in representatives of green algae, among which are the closest relatives of terrestrial plants. In addition to being related to multicellular plants where PRC2 function is relatively well understood, multicellularity evolved several times independently in the green lineage, giving rise to algae with different types of multicellular body plans.

ERC-CZ grants support Czech research projects which have fulfilled the criteria of excellence expected within the competition of the European Research Council (ERC), but they were not funded by the ERC due to budget limitations.

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