Two ERC Consolidator Grants for the University of Bonn

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Receive ERC Consolidator Grants: - Dennis Lehmkuhl from the Institute of PhilosoReceive ERC Consolidator Grants: - Dennis Lehmkuhl from the Institute of Philosophy and Annaliese Mason from the Institute of Crop Sciences and Resource Conservation at the University of Bonn. Photos: Barbara Frommann/Volker Lannert .

European Union funds projects worth millions in plant breeding and philosophy

Grants from the European Research Council (ERC) go to outstanding researchers and provide funding worth millions. At the University of Bonn, two people are receiving coveted ERC Consolidator Grants: Annaliese Mason from the Institute of Crop Sciences and Resource Conservation (INRES) and Dennis Lehmkuhl from the Institute of Philosophy.

Many of our crops, such as bananas and potatoes, are polyploid: they have extra copies of each chromosome. Polyploidy can lead to higher vigor, better growth and better tolerance to drought. That’s why agents that lead to a doubling of the chromosome set are used in plant breeding. "However, the resulting plants are unstable," says Prof. Annaliese Mason, who is responsible for plant breeding at the Institute of Crop Sciences and Resource Conservation (INRES) at the University of Bonn. "They lose genetic information important for viability and fertility during meiosis - sexual cell division - which makes them unsuitable as breeding material."

The scientist is now funded with a coveted Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) worth nearly two million euros over the next five years. In the project "Stabilising autopolyploid meiosis for enhanced yield," Prof. Mason is investigating how new polyploid crop plants can be stabilized, using both naturally occurring genetic variants and genetic modification. She hopes to double the chromosome number of crops such as Chinese cabbage, turnip and oilseeds, then to use this approach to produce stable plants for breeding. "If we can overcome this major problem of polyploid instability, we may theoretically be able to further increase the vigor and thus the yields of crops," says Annaliese Mason, who is also a member of the cluster of excellence PhenoRob at the University of Bonn. With the help of the ERC grant, the scientist plans to build a team to advance this important research.

Annaliese Mason studied genetics at the University of Western Australia in Perth (Australia) and received her PhD there. She subsequently conducted research in Wuhan (China) and in Brisbane (Australia). At the University of Gießen she led an Emmy Noether research group and completed her habilitation on plant hybrids. For her habilitation thesis, she received the Justus von Liebig University Award. She has been teaching and researching at the University of Bonn since September 2020 as head of the plant breeding department.

A gap in the understanding of modern physics

In the last seven years, researchers working on Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity of 1915 could celebrate the observation of both gravitational waves and black holes; both discoveries were honored with Nobel Prizes. "But these developments would not have been possible without the crucial developments within Einstein’s theory that took place between 1955 and 1975. And yet, these developments have not been properly investigated by historians or philosophers of science," says Dennis Lehmkuhl of the Institute of Philosophy at the University of Bonn. He too will now be funded by a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council, amounting to almost two million euros over the next five years.

The goal of his "Centre of Gravity" project is to close the gap in the understanding of the developments between 1955 and 1975. In these years, several researchers built on Einstein’s foundations, but also revolutionized the mathematical tools and physical concepts within the theory. In

"For in understanding the genesis and subsequent interpretation of these concepts and tools, we will also lay the groundwork for understanding the most exciting elements of today’s physics: the physics of gravitational waves as they arise from black hole and neutron star mergers, as well as of the supermassive black hole around which our entire galaxy rotates," says Prof. Lehmkuhl. He plans to tackle the project with a team of physicists, historians and philosophers of science.

The philosopher was immediately successful in his application for ERC funding. Moreover, this is the first ERC Consolidator Grant at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Bonn. Dennis Lehmkuhl studied physics and philosophy at the University of Hamburg and at Imperial College London. After completing his PhD at the University of Oxford, he worked at the University of Wuppertal, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and the University of Oxford. In 2018, he was appointed Lichtenberg Professor of History and Philosophy of Physics at the University of Bonn, the first such professorship in Germany. He remains a "Visiting Associate" at Caltech, as well as one of the scientific editors of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein.