April 26, 2022

2.5 million euros of funding for ISTA researcher Nick Barton

ERC grant supports scientists to better understand the evolution of genomes.

A group of evolutionary biologists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA) is developing new statistical methods that capture the rich structure of genetic data. For this endeavor, they now received 2.5 million euros from the European Research Council.

Genetic information is carried on long strands of DNA. Each individual carries a mosaic of blocks of genome that are inherited from a multitude of ancestors. Very recently, it has become possible to sequence large samples of whole genomes, which in principle allows scientists to draw conclusions about the history of the population, and to discover which parts of a genome affect the fitness of the organism. Nick Barton and his group of researchers at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA) develop mathematical models to probe fundamental questions of evolution. For example: How do new species form? Or what limits adaptation? Now they received a grant of 2.5 million euros from the European Research Council to delve even deeper into the matter.

New methods

“This grant will allow us to develop new statistical methods that capture the rich structure of genetic data, and to find the limits to what can be inferred from it,” Professor Nick Barton says. He and his team are going to test these methods using their long-term study of a hybrid zone in which two different kinds of flowers cross-fertilize. In the study, they separated populations of snapdragons (Antirrhinum) with different flower color and tracked the distribution of these plants and the relationships between them for more than a decade. “We are excited to have won support for this challenging project,” Barton states.

Long career in science

Nick Barton started his work as a Professor at ISTA in 2008. He graduated from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK and later worked at Cambridge University, University College (London) and the University of Edinburgh. He became the President of the Society for the Study of Evolution in 2001 and currently lives in the Wienerwald-region.

Nick Barton © Nadine Poncioni ISTA
Nick Barton. The evolutionary biologist leads a research group at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA) since 2008. ©Nadine Poncioni/ISTA


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