ERC Starting Grant for Georg Hochberg

For his research on Evolutionary Biochemistry, the scientist receives approximately 1.5 million euros

January 10, 2022

Dr. Georg Hochberg was awarded a prestigious starting grant of the European Research Council (ERC). The MPI-TM Research group leader will use the grant to deepen his investigations on the evolution of proteins.

Proteins are the basic building blocks of life, and at the same time, they are the most complex macromolecules, participating in virtually every process within cells and known for their vast diversity. But, how did nature create this diversity? Dr. Georg Hochberg`s lab at the MPI in Marburg studies the evolution of protein complexes – large and often geometrically beautiful assemblies of several protein chains that stick together. To understand how these assemblies came to be, his team use statistical methods to calculate the sequences of ancient proteins that last existed millions and even billions of years ago. They then resurrect these ancient proteins in the lab and study what kinds of complexes they form experimentally.

For his ERC grant, Georg Hochberg will tackle why nature seems to produce so many different kinds of complexes: “The default assumption in biochemistry is that protein complexes exist because they are useful. This is a pretty natural way to look at it, because these structures look so complicated: it seems implausible they could be created by anything other than natural selection for some useful function.”

But Hochberg has a suspicion that reality is more complicated. His team will be probing whether blind chance can in some cases create surprisingly complex biochemical structures that are not necessarily useful. “I think the complexity we see inside cells is a product of a complex interaction between natural selection and these random processes,” Georg Hochbergs explains. Right now, this idea is still largely theoretical. But using generous support from the EU, the lab will now put this theory to the test.

Georg Hochberg studied Biology at the University of Oxford where he also received his doctorate in physical biochemistry. He started to work on evolutionary biochemistry during his Postdoc at the University of Chicago. He is an independent Max Planck Research Group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology since 2019. In April 2021, Georg Hochberg was awarded one of the prestigious Human Frontiers grants.

ERC Starting Grants support promising researchers who are at the beginning of an independent research career. The funding, in 2022 worth in total €677 million, will help these early-career scientists and scholars to build their own teams and conduct pioneering research across all disciplines. The grants are part of the EU’s Research and Innovation programme, Horizon 2020.

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