Journal of the University of Vigo | Vigo
Scientific excellence is the criteria that determines the granting of the prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grants to young researchers for them to be able to develop their own independent projects. Projects like the one led by the researcher from the Biochemistry, Genetics and Immunology Department from the University of Vigo, José Tubío, on the study of transmissible cancers in marine animals. The ERC will provide 1.5 million euros of funding for Tubío to carry out this research during the next five years in. “For me it is like winning an Olympic medal, because competence is huge, this year close to 3000 applications were submitted, most of them of an outstanding quality, and only 300 of them will be funded” Tubío points out. The researcher, that came to Vigo this year through a Ramón y Cajal grant (Spain´s national program for excellent young researchers) after a four year stay in Cambridge, becomes in the second researcher from the University of Vigo to be selected in this prestigious program.
A project selected among close to 3000 applications
The ERC Starting Grant program is aimed to researchers with a 2 to 7 year post-doctoral research career and aims at retaining, providing impulse and making the best use of the talent of young generations of scientists allowing them to develop their own projects independently. The 2016 Stanting Grants call received 2935 applications in its three funding lines, Social sciences and Humanities, Physical and Engineering Sciences and Life sciences. 854 proposals were evaluated by the Life Sciences panel, among them Tubío´s, who identifies two key points for his success. The first of them is the fact of having prepared thoroughly the interview prior to the final resolution, that took him to Brussels in June accompanied by his bivalves, in front of the committee of experts appointed by the ERC, since the program values not only a competitive project but also the capacity to defend it in front of the evaluation panel. The second key point, in Tubío´s opinion, was the support received from David Posada, the first researcher from the University of Vigo to receive a Starting Grant and who currently benefits from a Consolidator Grant. Tubío´s Grant adds up to the grant obtained by the researcher Elena Ojeda, that will join the University of Vigo in October.
For Tubío, his selection for this Grant “is the prize to five years of hard work, of an almost total commitment”. The researcher was one of the 85 candidates that were evaluated under the highly competitive “Genetics, Genomics and Bioinformatics” panel. The panel selected 20 of them for the interview prior to the final resolution, where the committee of experts appointed by the ERC values the researcher´s and the project´s excellence. In this regard, Tubío´s previous record as a researcher on cancer genomics developed in Cambridge University and with more than ten articles in Science and Nature, two of them as first author, served as the best support for Tubío´s application with the University of Vigo as hosting institution. “But in the end the project is the final piece that makes all this possible” Tubío points out, the researcher that will make this innovative line his main working field, the study of transmissible cancers in marine animals.
A very peculiar metastasis
Tubío explains that until one year ago the existence of transmissible cancers among marine animals was unknown, this possibility was only known to happen in dogs and in the Tasmanian Devil, two species in which the researcher focused his activity during the last few years in Cambridge. “In this case, it is about cancers that spread through the sea from one animal to another, therefore if you think about it, this mechanism is like a metastasis, just that instead of transmitting from one organ to another it transmits between different specimens”
The main purposes of this research are to go deeper into the “mechanisms that occur during metastasis through the study of these very special cancers” and to identify “those genes that make possible that one cell becomes transmissible, the molecular mechanisms that make possible for a cell to leave an animal an come into another one”. The 1.5 million Euros from the ERC will go “mostly into sequencing marine animals genomes” but also to hire research staff, to the purchase of equipment and laboratory consumables both for Tubío´s laboratory in the CACTI building and for the satellite laboratory in Toralla Marine Science Station (ECIMAT) “without which this project would not be possible” and as Tubío points out, the fact of having the possibility to access a state of the art marine research facility like ECIMAT constituted a competitive advantage in the selection process, since it will make possible the collection and ex-situ maintenance of live samples of bivalves in a project “100% Made in Vigo” and in an institution “with an enormous track record on bivalve genomics”.