Human egg cells have the ability to survive for up to 50 years in the ovaries without losing the ability to fuse with sperm and give rise to new generations. However, the molecular mechanisms that underpins how the cells maintain pristine conditions for this period of time remain unknown.

Our limited understanding of how human egg cells work means that around one in four female fertility problems are unexplained. Understanding the intricate cellular machinery that underlie the function of human egg cells work can shed light on what happens when things go wrong and eventually fail with advanced age.

A research group at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) led by Dr. Elvan Böke is working on identifying these cellular mechanisms and unravelling the mysteries of human egg cells. The research group recently showed in the journal Nature that the cells use alternative metabolic pathways to generate energy never before seen in other animal cell types.

The group is now one of 321 researchers that have won the latest round of European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grants. The group will receive 2 million euros - part of the EU’s Horizon Europe programme – to further their research efforts. The ERC Consolidator Grant follows an ERC Starting Grant awarded to Dr. Böke in 2017.

The group will combine experiments involving biochemical perturbations with imaging and the state-of-the-art -omics techniques to reveal both the mechanisms dormant oocytes employ to maintain cellular fitness and how ageing affects these mechanisms.

“I’m very happy for the continuous support of the ERC for our work on immature oocytes. We are looking forward to finding out the strategies that help oocytes evade ageing,” says Dr. Böke.

The laureates of the 2022 grant competition proposed to carry out their projects at universities and research centres in 18 EU Member States, plus other countries associated with Horizon Europe. Among the EU countries the highest numbers of grants will be located in Germany (62 projects), France (41) and Spain (24).

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