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Sapere Aude Starting Grant to AIAS Fellow Peter Refsing Andersen

With an attractive Sapere Aude grant from The Independent Research Fund Denmark (DFF), Peter Refsing Andersen will be mapping the internal conflicts of genomes to reveal how genes fight each other for space in the genome, and ultimately enhancing our biological and medical insight and treatment.

Photo: Peter Refsing Andersen. Credit: Ida Marie Jensen, AU Photo.

Today, AIAS Fellow and Assistant Professor Peter Refsing Andersen from AIAS & The Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University, has received a ‘Sapere Aude DFF starting Grant’ of DKK 6,175,545 from The Independent Research Fund Denmark (DFF) for his four-year project entitled ‘Molecular mechanisms of genetic conflicts‘. The project will begin on 1 July 2020 and run until 1 July 2024. 

The internal molecular arms race

We often consider living organisms as harmonic biological entities, but all life in fact exist in a constant internal arms race with DNA parasites whose only purpose it is to make more copies of themselves. These parasites have colonised the genomes of almost all species and compose two-thirds of the human genome. Spread of DNA parasites can destroy important genes, so all life forms have evolved genome defense mechanisms to keep the parasites in check. 

“With the grant from DFF, I will uncover the strategies used by DNA parasites to evade the genome defense mechanisms and at the same time reveal how the host genes underlying the genome defense adapt to the parasites’ constant search for holes in the defense”, said Peter Refsing Andersen. 

Developing a framework to understand how genomes function

Peter’s research project is not easy to conduct due to the very fast evolution of the involved genes, which is the ‘result’ of this molecular arms race between host genomes and DNA parasites. 

To meet this challenge, Peter will study the fruit fly system as it is very fast to works with and allows easy genetic manipulation. Together with studies of other organisms in different species, the ultimate aim is to build a framework for understanding how genomes in general, including the human, function in spite of – or perhaps because of – the endless evolutionary arms races with DNA parasites. 

“Research in how genomes have evolved and how they function not only contributes to a general understanding of what life is and how it is maintained, but also to the advance of future medical treatments. As it gets cheaper and cheaper to read the DNA code of whole genomes, such readings will become standard procedures for both healthy and ill individuals. 

But reading in itself only gives a lot of data. Genetic studies such as mine will help build a framework for understanding how all this data can be translated into biological and medical insight and treatment,” explained Peter Refsing Andersen about the potential of his research. 

More about the Sapere Aude DFF-Starting Grants from The Independent Research Fund Denmark (DFF)

The ‘Sapere Aude: DFF-Starting Grant’ is aimed at providing excellent younger researchers, i.e. researchers who have carried out top class research in their field, with the opportunity to develop and strengthen their research ideas. The instrument also aims at promoting the mobility internationally as well as nationally among research environments and thereby to strengthen networks and careers. The grants are targeted at top researchers who intend to gather a group of researchers and/or research students, to carry out a research project at a high, international level. Also, the ‘Sapere Aude: DFF-Starting Grant’ strengthens the possibility for excellent younger researchers to return to a Danish research institution after a research stay abroad.


Peter Refsing Andersen, AIAS Fellow & Assistant Professor

Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (AIAS) &
Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics
Aarhus University