Florian Wilfling receives prestigious ERC Starting Grant

The European Research Council (ERC) funds Wilfling's research on the cell's waste disposal system

July 19, 2022

Our faculty member Florian Wilfling, a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) of Biophysics, has received a prestigious Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for his project investigating a recycling program in the cell, known as autophagy. As one of 397 early career awardees, he was able to prevail among more than 4,000 applicants.

Text: Katharina Käfer

Wilfling investigates cellular waste disposal

How does the cell remove its waste? This is one of the main questions that the research group “Mechanisms of cellular quality control” led by Florian Wilfling at the MPI of Biophysics is interested in. The scientists study a process called macroautophagy, which serves to eliminate defective or damaged cellular components. A malfunctioning of this waste disposal system can result in serious diseases such as cancer or neurodegeneration. During macroautophagy, the cell synthesizes a special double membrane compartment, called autophagosome. This autophagosome engulfs the components to be disposed, degrades them, and delivers them for degradation and recycling. “You can think of the autophagosome as ‘Pac-Man’ that swallows and digests cellular waste,” Wilfling explains. In his EU-funded project, Wilfling will investigate how specific cargoes are collected in the cell and synchronized with autophagosome formation. His group uses a diverse set of state-of-the-art techniques such as electron microscopy, high-resolution light microscopy and mass spectrometry to visualize and quantify cellular components. Wilfling’s findings could provide new starting points for the therapy of neurodegenerative diseases.

ERC Starting Grants support excellent young researchers

With his pioneering research idea, Florian Wilfling prevailed among more than 4,000 applicants, and was awarded one of 397 highly prestigious ERC Starting Grants. The ERC was established in 2007 by the European Union to promote excellent research by the best and most creative minds throughout Europe. The ERC Starting Grants are endowed with an average of €1.5 million, and aim to support ambitious early career scientists in launching their own projects, building their research groups and pursuing their most innovative ideas.

Wilfling pursues successful academic career

Florian Wilfling studied biochemistry at the Technical University of Munich. With a fellowship awarded by the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation, he joined the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven in the US as a doctoral researcher and completed his PhD in 2013. As a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried, Germany, he received a prestigious fellowship from the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), which supports excellent researchers in the life sciences. During his time as a postdoctoral scientist and project leader at the MPI of Biochemistry, he discovered his fascination for autophagy that he is now exploring further as a group leader at the MPI of Biophysics.

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