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Dr Gytis Dudas among 11 top virus researchers in Europe

<strong>Dr Gytis Dudas among 11 top virus researchers in Europe</strong>

Dr Gytis Dudas, a virus researcher at Vilnius University Life Sciences Centre (VU LSC), is one of two young scientists at VU LSC  and one of 11 European scientists who received a grant from the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) to set up their own laboratory this year. Dr Dudas will set up his laboratory to carry out studies assessing the ability of surface proteins from several orthomyxoviridae, distant relatives of the influenza virus, to penetrate vertebrate cells.

The scientist put a huge impact in Lithuania’s SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance and other projects he took on after leaving Trevor Bedford’s laboratory in Seattle.

The EMBO-funded project aims to assess the ability of surface proteins of several Orthomyxoviridae, distant relatives of the influenza virus, to enter vertebrate cells. The risk of a particular RNA virus-causing disease is usually assessed retrospectively, i.e., a virus is considered to be likely to cause a disease after at least one case of the disease associated with that infection has been reported.
At the same time, the ever-increasing affordability of sequencing over the last ten years has uncovered a vast diversity of RNA viruses in arthropods (insects, arachnids and their relatives), but the use of this information so far has been superficial, with a greater focus on the distribution of different viruses across hosts, locations or populations, and less attention paid to the evolution of the viruses discovered, their dynamics over time, and the integration and joint analysis of the genetic sequences discovered by earlier and different studies.

EMBO grant comes with a long list of benefits beyond direct financial funding. For instance, additional support for networking, soft skill workshops, conferences, mentoring and access to EMBL core facilities is provided on an on-top and on-demand basis. In addition, publication fees for EMBO journals are waived, and EMBO will even fund manuscript editing services and grant writing support.

The scientist advises his colleagues to be determined and ambitious. “It is an open secret that scientists working in Lithuania are lagging behind in procuring international funding despite our membership in the European Union and initiatives to reduce this gap. Whoever doesn’t try to get international funding ends up not getting it, and the disappointment that you feel when you don’t get the funding is not the end of the world, so I would encourage my young colleagues to never give up and to aim higher,” underlines the scientist.

Dr Patrick Pausch, a researcher at the VU LSC EMBL Partnership Institute, has been awarded a grant as well. “I already established my laboratory last year. As a result, it is more of an afterburner, assisting me in taking my research to the next level. Despite its modest size – 50,000-60,000 € per year – the grant provides full integration into the EMBO network”, says Dr  Pausch.

Dr Pausch joined VU Life Sciences Centre in 2021 to establish his group at the LSC-EMBL partnership for genome editing technologies. Under his leadership, the group develops molecular tools for human health and biotechnology applications. Previously, he was a postdoctoral scholar in a group of Chemistry Nobel Laureate Dr Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley.

The EMBO Installation Grant amounts to €50,000 per year for three to five years. Of this, €35,000 is paid annually by the EMBO member countries (in the case of Lithuania, by the Research Council of Lithuania) and the rest by the EMBC (European Molecular Biology Conference), which funds EMBO. Grant winners can apply for additional small grants (up to €10,000 per year). Scientists who have received an EMBO grant become members of the EMBO Young Investigators Network and are provided with professional support and access to state-of-the-art research facilities. In addition, they have access to other financial and information support from EMBO to help them develop contacts and skills.