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Variability in Brain Development

German Research Foundation Approves Funding for Research Unit at the Institute of Biology at Freie Universität Berlin / Partnership with Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz / Extended Funding for an Additional Research Center

№ 250/2021 from Dec 10, 2021

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has founded a new research unit at Freie Universität that will examine the fundamental principles of brain development. The research unit includes thirteen principal investigators who are involved in nine closely linked research projects that explore how variability affects brain development despite identical genetic information. For example, identical twins have the same genetic makeup but different personalities. These differences might stem from different life experiences or chance variations that occur during brain development. The extent to which these two factors might contribute to personality differences remains unclear and is difficult to study in humans. The new research unit is called “From Imprecision to Robustness in Neural Circuit Assembly.” Professor Peter Robin Hiesinger at the Institute of Biology will head the research unit, according to a statement on Friday from the DFG in Bonn. Partner institutions include Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and the Zuse Institute Berlin.

The researchers working in the nine projects within the research unit use fruit flies as neurogenetic models in order to study how individual imprecisions impact brain development and whether such imprecisions might be a necessary component of brain development in the first place.

The research unit’s spokesperson, Professor Hiesinger, launched several new projects at Freie Universität in 2021 that look at brain development from an information theory perspective. He recently received an ERC Advanced Grant from the European Research Council, which comes with 2.3 million euros in funding, for his project “Synaptic Promiscuity in Brain Development.” He is also the author of The Self-Assembling Brain (Princeton University Press, 2021) that presents his work in this area to a broad, general audience.

The research unit is one of eight throughout Germany to receive approval from the German Research Foundation. The maximum funding period for the research units is four years, which can be renewed once. DFG research units provide support for researchers so that they can focus on current and pressing issues in their fields and establish innovative avenues of scientific and scholarly inquiry. The DFG funds 177 research units, 13 clinical research units, and 11 centers for advanced studies. One of these centers is also located at Freie Universität and recently received approval for extended funding from the DFG: “Rethinking Oriental Despotism – Strategies of Governance and Modes of Participation in the Ancient Near East” was started in 2017 and is now headed by Professor Jörg W. Klinger.