20 September 2023

Researchers Secure Villum Experiment Grants to Explore New Boundaries

Experiment grants

The Center for Evolutionary Hologenomics is celebrating that two of our researchers, Emilio Mármol Sánchez and Antton Alberdi, have been awarded the prestigious Villum Experiment Grant, each receiving 1.99 million Danish kroner. These grants mark a significant investment in these cutting-edge research projects that promise to push the boundaries of paleogenetics and hologenomics.

RNA molecule

Unravelling Genetic Secrets of Ancient RNA

Postdoctoral researcher Emilio Mármol Sánchez's project: "Ancient RNA: Uncovering the Missing Link to Reveal a New Era in Paleogenetics," embarks on a transformative journey into the past, focusing on the often overlooked realm of ancient RNA. 

Dr Emilio explains: "In recent years we have seen an explosion of research focusing on sequencing ancient DNA. Hence, this nowadays mature and active field has provided a lot of new insights into the biology of now extinct animals, such as woolly mammoths or Tasmanian tigers, among others. It has also allowed us to trace back the evolutionary history of both extinct and extant species. Moreover, even the study of ancient proteins has recently gained certain momentum and it is starting to produce many relevant new discoveries.” 

“In contrast, the molecule in between DNA and proteins within the Central Dogma of biology, RNA, has been mostly ignored so far. The reasoning for this might be the common preconception that RNA molecules are too fragile and tend to degrade quite quickly after cell death, rendering them virtually absent from old preserved remains” says Emilio and continues “With this Villum Experiment grant I intend to challenge this idea, and prove that, under certain conditions, RNA molecules can be preserved through time, in amounts and good enough quality enabling us to learn about how the cell metabolism of extinct species actually worked back in time when they were still around. Since the ancient RNA field is still in its infancy, I propose to develop novel techniques and approaches to refine the isolation and analysis of these evasive molecules.”

“I envision that the output of my research may incite a renewed interest in the long-neglected ancient RNA field, exploring the range of tissues and specimens stored at museum collections, where a universe of RNA molecules await to be uncovered. I am honoured and thankful to Villum Fonden for giving me the opportunity to keep exploring these tricky ancient RNAs and bringing them back from oblivion." Emilio ends.

Illuminating Microbial Worlds

Associate Professor Antton Alberdi's visionary project: "InSituMicroSeq: 3D Reconstruction of Microbial Communities through In Situ Sequencing," aspires to revolutionise our understanding of microbial ecosystems. Drawing on cutting-edge in situ sequencing techniques, Antton aims to develop a new technology to produce in situ functional characterisation of microorganisms, this shedding light on the spatial structure of microbial functions in their natural habitats, shedding light on the complex interactions and ecological roles of microorganisms.

Biodiversity Monitoring through MOSS

Finally, postdoctoral researcher Kasun Bodawatta, our next door neighbour at Globe Institute, spearheads the project "Most Optimal Sampling Source for Terrestrial Biodiversity Monitoring (MOSS)." His research aims to identify the most effective sources for biodiversity data collection, optimising sampling techniques for greater accuracy and efficiency. This project holds the potential to revolutionise how we study and safeguard ecosystems in the future.

A journey of scientific discovery

The Villum Experiment grants provide a great opportunity for researchers like Emilio Mármol Sánchez, Antton Alberdi and Kasun Bodawatta to embark on journeys of scientific discovery that have the potential to reshape our understanding of evolutionary biology, microbial ecology and biodiversity monitoring. The Center for Evolutionary Hologenomics celebrates their achievements and anticipates the groundbreaking insights that will emerge from these projects. This funding represents a vital investment in the pursuit of knowledge and the advancement of scientific understanding in these important fields of research. Read the press release from the Villum Foundation here.


Associate Professor Antton Alberdi