How can novel computational methods be used to decipher the genetic causes of psychiatric disorders? To what extent does religion contribute to the formation of ecological awareness? What role do atmospheric aerosols play in the survival of bacteria on plants? These innovative projects are tackled by the University of Bonn together with renowned partner universities around the world. The funds for these Collaborative Research Grants come from the Excellence Strategy - a multi-million funding competition of the German federal and state governments, from which the University of Bonn emerged as the most successful university in all of Germany.
"The Collaborative Research Grants create a very close and sustainable cooperation," says Rector Prof. Michael Hoch.
"We invest in people. We foster networks. We create impact." is the motto with which Bonn advanced to become a University of Excellence. The Collaborative Research Grants are one example of this success story. With the University of Melbourne, the University of St Andrews, Emory University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as its strategic partner universities, a total of ten projects will be funded with up to 40,000 euros each from the University of Bonn's Excellence Funds.
The Alma mater in Bonn runs the funding program together with its partner universities, which also contribute financially. "The Collaborative Research Grants create a very close and sustainable cooperation," says Rector Prof. Michael Hoch. "For the University of Bonn, this funding program is therefore an important instrument for intensifying key global partnerships at research level, bringing together institutes and researchers from partner universities in innovative projects, and expanding cooperation to other faculties and departments." The program is furthermore intended to strengthen the Transdisciplinary Research Areas. These are six university-wide and cross-faculty research networks in which different disciplines come together to jointly research socially relevant topics of the future.
Project example: Research into psychiatric disorders
One of the projects funded by the Collaborative Research Grants is led by Prof. Dr. Markus Nöthen, Director of the Institute of Human Genetics, together with a colleague at the University of St Andrews (Scotland) on the genetic causes of psychiatric disorders. These cover a wide spectrum and include developmental disorders such as autism and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), as well as mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. "All of these diseases have a significant underlying genetic component," says Nöthen. In recent years, international consortia have successfully pooled and analyzed genetic data from many patients. This helped to identify a steadily growing number of genetic risk factors. The next step is to translate this growing body of data into information that can improve the treatment and management of psychiatric disorders in the future.
New methods are to be applied using computer-assisted processes. "Machine learning makes it possible to analyze a wide range of genetic and clinical data simultaneously and identify patterns," adds Dr. Silvia Paracchini of the School of Medicines at the University of St Andrews. Both partner universities complement each other's competencies and are establishing a new collaborative platform. "This platform has the potential to be adapted to a wide range of human diseases," Nöthen says. The first meeting of the participating researchers, held virtually due to the pandemic, took place recently. A face-to-face meeting in Bonn is planned for the fall.