Three ERC Advanced Investigator Grants from the European Research Council, amounting to € 7.7 million in total, will go to researchers at Goethe University in Frankfurt. The sociologist Professor Markus Gangl examines whether economic inequality poses a threat to liberal society. The economist Professor Bernd Skiere researches the economic dimensions of cookies, and Helge Bode, Professor for Molecular Biotechnology, aims to discover new drugs based on natural products.
“For the first time, Goethe University has succeed in securing three ERC projects simultaneously in one round of applications. It’s a very special challenge for us, and I am delighted,” commented University President Professor Birgitte Wolff regarding the announcement of the award winners. “The development of synthetic drugs from natural substances, researching economic mechanisms in the Internet and the scientific examination of the connection between social inequality and societal stability – with their projects, our scientists are investigating important issues of our day,” says Wolff.
“SYNPEP” Project reprograms natural peptides as drugs
Many clinically used drugs are peptides, which are often produced by microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi. They include important antibiotics such as vancomycin, daptomycin and penicillin, immune suppressors such as cyclosporine, and anti-cancer drugs such as bleomycin. To alter these peptides, the enzymes producing them have to be reprogrammed. This also allows the production of non-natural peptides which do not occur in nature and which might have beneficial or superior properties compared to the original peptide. This is the goal of SYNPEP (Synthetic biology of non-ribosomal peptide synthetases to generate new peptides), headed by Helge B. Bode, Professor for Molecular Biotechnology at the Faculty of Biological Sciences at Goethe University. The project will be funded for five years with € 3.16 million.
Helge Bode came to Goethe University in 2008 when he was appointed Merck Endowed Chair for Molecular Biotechnology. He works on all aspects of microbial natural products, with particular focus on the natural function of these molecules. His group studied this within the framework of an ERC Starting Grant from 2013 through 2018. His second emphasis is on the manipulation of non-ribosomal peptide synthetases, which are the focus of the ERC Advanced Grant just awarded.
“POLAR” Project focuses on social inequality
Professor Markus Gangl was awarded an Advanced Grant for the research project POLAR (Polarization and its discontents: does rising economic inequality undermine the foundations of liberal societies?). The project is dedicated to the issue of whether increasing economic inequality contributes to the undermining of important pillars of Western-liberal society. Professor Gangl and his project team will use survey data from approximately 30 countries in an empirical study of the relationship between growing inequality and social mobility, social cohesion, and the acceptance of democratic values and institutions. The project will be funded with approximately € 2.5 million.
Markus Gangl has been at Goethe University since 2011 as a Professor of Sociology in the area of social stratification and social policy; he also is an Honorary Fellow at the Department of Sociology of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. Before joining Goethe University he held professorships at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and at the University of Mannheim. Professor Gangl is an elected member of the Lepoldina (German National Academy of Sciences), an elected member of the Board of the Research Committee 28 (Social stratification and mobility) of the International Sociological Association, and the Editor-in-Chief of the European Sociological Review, the most important European journal in his field. He currently directs the CORRODE project, also funded by the European Research Council (ERC), which empirically investigates the socio-economic consequences of the financial crisis.
“COOKIES” project researches the value of cookies for advertisers
Cookies allow companies to collect information about users in the Internet. This information is often used to improve the performance of online advertising, which website publishers rely on in order to finance the “free” content to which their users have become accustomed. Yet, the collection of information leads to a loss of privacy. Accordingly, EU policy makers have put forward initiatives to restrict cookie usage (e.g., General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), upcoming ePrivacy Regulation).
So far, there exists very little empirical knowledge on the trade-off between user privacy and the economic value that website publishers, advertisers, and even users derive from cookies. As a result, policy makers have no way of telling whether their restrictions on cookies have the intended positive consequences for user privacy, or whether any benefits are outweighed by negative effects on the profits of companies—which policy makers also seek to nurture. The research project COOKIES (Economic Consequences of Restrictions on the Usage of Cookies) by Professor Bernd Skiera aims to close this gap. In the project, several data sets will be analysed, including a cookie dataset containing prices for online advertisements from more than 2.8 billion (anonymous) cookies, and an implementation dataset that shows how thousands of websites implemented the EU General Data Protection Regulation that went into effect in 2018. The funding for this project amounts to almost € 2 million.
Bernd Skiera has been Chair for Electronic Commerce at Goethe University since 1999. In Handelsblatt’s 2014 ranking, he was named the highest performing research professor in business economics in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Thirteen of his former doctoral students are now professors in Germany, Austria, the USA, England and Spain; nine are in tenured positions.