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Jens Stougaard receives prestigious grant from the European Research Council

For the second time in his career, Professor Jens Stougaard from the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Aarhus University receives an ERC Advanced Grant from the European Research Council for research in plant molecular biology. The amount awarded is EUR 2.5 million and runs over five years.

2019.03.28 | Lisbeth Heilesen

For the second time in his career, Professor Jens Stougaard from the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Aarhus University receives an ERC Advanced Grant from the European Research Council for research in plant molecular biology. Photo: Lisbeth Heilesen, AU.

It is great, just to get one ERC grant in your research career, but to get two is exceptional and a unique recognition of Jens Stougaard's international level, and it was indeed a proud and happy researcher who received the news about the grant:

"I received an ERC Advanced Grant in 2012 and thought that this was a unique highlight of my career. In 2018, I decided to try again, even though I knew how difficult it is to get such a grant. I was also in great doubt as to whether I would succeed again, so therefore I was extremely happy when I got the news,” says Jens Stougaard.

"With this grant, I will be able to hire the best researchers working with plant molecular biology or genetics, and this enables us to put all our energy into achieving the goals we have set ourselves," concludes Jens Stougaard.

And indeed, their goals are ambitious, as the researchers aim at identifying and charactering the genes behind the interaction between plant roots and soil bacteria - an area with which the researchers from the Section of Plant Molecular Biology have a lot of experience. As one of the first researchers, Jens Stougaard began to study the legume plant Lotus japonicus, where he and his group found and characterized the genes that enable legumes to establish symbiosis with the soil bacterium rhizobium. Rhizobia bacteria can utilize the nitrogen of the air, and because of the symbiosis with the bacteria, the legume can create its own fertilizer.

The hypothesis of the new ERC project is that the intercellular infection mechanism used by certain rhizobia bacteria is an evolutionary development of already existing mechanisms that regulate plant root interaction with the endophytic bacteria living within the root of plants - in both legumes and non-legumes. The hope is to uncover both the plant and bacterial genetics - and the biochemical processor that controls these common mechanisms - by characterizing the unexplored intercellular mode of infection in the legume Lotus japonicus.

The researchers intend to use the unique knowledge, genetic resources and biological functions found in the legume Lotus japonicus to uncover the processes that support either intercellular infection or the conventional legume-specific infection through infection threads. This enables comparative studies of these two forms of infection in simple binary interactions with the same host being inoculated with specific bacteria.

If the researchers succeed in identifying and characterizing the mechanisms of the infection mechanisms, it will contribute to the fundamental understanding of the interaction of plants with the myriad of soil bacteria that have affected the development of the land plants and are supposed to contribute to stabilizing a robust plant growth under variable environmental conditions.


About Jens Stougaard’s research

Jens Stougaard heads a research section in Plant Molecular Biology with about 35 researchers, of whom about half come from abroad from most of the world. Overview of researchers in the section.

As one of the first researchers, Jens Stougaard began studying the legume Lotus japonicus where he and his group discovered the genetic program that allows legumes to exploit the nitrogen of the air in symbiosis with the bacteria. This discovery may lead to the result that we will be able to develop sustainable agriculture with reduced use of fertilizer.

As a result of his work, Jens Stougaard received a 10-year grant from the Danish National Research Foundation for the establishment of a Center of Excellence, an ERC Advanced Grant in 2012 and now also another ERC Advanced Grant, to further develop this research.

See the press release from the European Research Council.


For further information, please contact

Professor Jens Stougaard
Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics
Aarhus University, Denmark
stougaard@mbg.au.dk – +45 6020 2649

Grant