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The ecology and evolution of giant viruses: ERC Starting Grant for Anouk Willemsen

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Profile Picture of Anouk Willemsen

Anouk Willemsen, virologist at CMESS, receives a highly endowed ERC Starting Grant for her research on giant viruses. Anouk has devoted her career to the study of virus evolution. Her goal is to improve our understanding of viral genome organisation as well as virus-host interactions. She joined our Centre as a postdoc in 2020 with a Marie Skłodowska-Curie (MSCA) Fellowship – already the second one she had been awarded. At CMESS, she is working on giant viruses together with Matthias Horn's research group.

Giant viruses reproduce in unicellular organisms and are characterised by their enormous size, which is similar to that of bacteria, as well as by their genetic configuration, which is unusual for viruses. In her just approved ERC Starting Grant project CHIMERA, Anouk Willemsen will combine laboratory experiments and bioinformatic approaches to better understand how giant viruses have obtained their complex genomes. In particular, she will investigate the role of mobile genetic elements. These mobile genetic elements will help her trace the evolutionary history of this unique group of viruses. The overall goal is to gain insights into the molecular dialogue between viruses, bacteria and their  hosts.

Anouk Willemsen’s ERC project very well adds to the research portfolio at CMESS. Research into the microbiome (i.e. the totality of all bacteria, archaea, unicellular eukaryotes, fungi, and viruses) in medicine and the environment is a guiding theme of the 2019-established Centre. Eight ERC grant researchers and four of the world’s most cited researchers – as listed by Clarivate on their annual Highly Cited Researchers list – are now based at the Centre.