A genetecist has been handed a €1.7 million grant to discover the secrets of DNA.
Dr Matt Neale, from the University of Sussex, has been awarded the cash, equivalent to £1.38 million, to look at how genes pass from parents to children.
He will begin the five-year project in January 2013, thanks to the money from the European Research Council, which is specifically designed to support those in the early years of their research career.
He will be using his loaf to look at DNA repair, as his experiments are based on yeast used in bread making and beer.
Dr Neale will be investigating homologous recombination (HR), a method of DNA repair.
He said: “About 200 DNA breaks are purposely created – and repaired – within each maturing gamete cell.
“In this context, HR is not just a DNA repair mechanism, but also a method that has evolved to drive interaction and genetic exchange between the two copies of each chromosome that we inherited from our parents.
"The results are sperm and eggs that each have a unique mixture of our own genetic information and, by extension, that of our parents.
“The generation of these unique combinations explains why siblings have unique appearance and characteristics.
“Without HR occurring during gamete formation, we would be completely infertile.”
Understanding processes like HR could also help with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients.
Dr Neale said: “When HR goes wrong unwanted chromosome rearrangements can arise, creating daughter cells with chromosome regions that are duplicated or missing – a classic hallmark of a cancer cell.
“Projects like this could impact how well we can understand and interpret the causes and consequences of lost gene and cellular function within our own bodies – improving, for example, the diagnosis and treatment of patients.”
Dr Neale is the third Sussex researcher to be awarded a starting grant by the ERC in 2012. Physicists Dr Jeff Hartnell and Dr David Seery were also successful in their bids.
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