Information für die Wissenschaft Nr. 6 | 3. Februar 2023

Priority Programme “Evolutionary Optimisation of Neuronal Processing” (SPP 2205)

In March 2017, the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme entitled “Evolutionary Optimisation of Neuronal Processing” (SPP 2205). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the second three-year funding period.

In March 2017, the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme entitled “Evolutionary Optimisation of Neuronal Processing” (SPP 2205). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the second three-year funding period.

Recent progress in diverse neurobiological systems has uncovered intriguing examples of evolutionary convergence and optimisation and indicates that natural selection pressures can determine the organisation of neuronal processing systems down to the molecular level. In parallel, computational and theoretical neuroscience has witnessed rapid progress in its capability to derive functionally optimised circuit architectures under realistic neurobiological constraints. In addition, phylogenomics and developmental neuroscience have opened up new avenues to reconstruct the evolutionary-developmental construction of neuronal cell types and circuits. The Priority Programme “Evolutionary Optimisation of Neuronal Processing” will provide a platform to bring biological, computational and mathematical disciplines together and support research projects that aim to uncover evolutionary principles and processes of neuronal circuit design. Successful proposals may range from the analysis of divergent specialisations of sensory systems in closely related species to projects theoretically deriving and experimentally testing predictions of computational optimisation theories and to collaborations between different experimental groups that employ identical methodologies to study convergently evolved circuits in distant lineages. While these examples do not exhaust the range of conceivable study designs they indicate that successful proposals are expected to focus on a frontier research challenge in neural circuit evolution.

In particular, this call invites research proposals that examine the convergent evolution or evolutionary specialisation of shared core circuits (Theme A), investigate whether and how neural cells, biological circuits and systems reach absolute limits of performance (Theme B), or aim to uncover genomic trajectories of cell type and neural circuit evolution (Theme C). It is anticipated that tandem proposals by theory-experiment collaborations or pairs of groups of complementary expertise that e. g. study different species with analogous methods will be best equipped to advance these topics.

Projects suited for this Priority Programme should preferably include several of the following aims:

  • Combined theoretical prediction and experimental testing of signatures for a functionally optimised organisation of a particular neuronal circuit
  • Combined theoretical prediction and experimental testing of functionally optimised cellular or molecular neuronal properties
  • Development of novel computational and mathematical approaches for the construction of optimised neuronal information processing systems respecting biologically realistic constraints
  • Quantitative demonstration of functional-level convergence between neuronal circuit operations in distinct animal lineages
  • Determining the adaptive value of functional-level divergence of circuit motives or circuit operations among closely related species
  • Studies of the computational significance of connectome level evolutionary convergence/divergence between analogous/homologous neuronal circuits in distinct lineages
  • Development and application of computational techniques for the objective, data-driven alignment of analogous neuronal circuit elements across species
  • Assessment of molecular-level convergence between analogous cellular elements in neuronal circuits formed by bona fide convergent evolution
  • Expression profiling and cell type mapping studies to reconstruct and understand neural circuit evolution

Discouraged are:

  • Optimisation of neuromorphic computing architectures primarily for technological applications
  • Biorobotics or cognitive robotics if not used to examine animal nervous system design principles of evolutionary relevance
  • Neurological or psychological human studies if not to test predictive quantitative theories of neuronal information processing and its evolutionary optimisation
  • Comparative neurobiological studies without a theoretical component based on mathematical or computational models of neuronal information processing
  • Expression profiling and transcriptome and cell type mapping studies if not to examine neural circuit evolution

Proposal Submission

Proposals must be written in English and submitted to the DFG by 24 May 2023. In preparing your proposal, please review the programme guidelines (form 50.05, section B) and follow the proposal preparation instructions (form 54.01). These forms can either be downloaded from our website or accessed through the elan portal. In addition to submitting your proposal through elan, please send an electronic copy to the programme coordinator. Projects will be reviewed by an international expert panel on the basis of the written proposals.

Please note that proposals can only be submitted via elan, the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system. If you would like to submit a proposal for a new project within the existing Priority Programme, please go to Proposal Submission – New Project – Priority Programmes and select “SPP 2205” from the current list of calls. Previous applicants can submit a proposal for the renewal of an existing project under Proposal Submission – Proposal Overview/Renewal Proposal.

If you are using the elan system for the first time, please note that applicants must be registered in elan prior to submitting a proposal to the DFG. If you have not yet registered, please note that you must do so by 10 May 2023 to submit a proposal under this call; registration requests received after this time cannot be considered. Also, if you are planning to move to a different institution (e. g. with a temporary position for principal investigators) you need to register the new institutional address beforehand. The registration requests are handled manually by DFG staff. You will normally receive confirmation of your registration by the next working day. Please note that you will be asked to select the appropriate Priority Programme call during both the registration and the proposal process.

Further Information

The elan system can be accessed at:

DFG forms 50.05 and 54.01 can be downloaded at:

For scientific enquiries please contact the Priority Programme coordinator:

  • Prof. Dr. Fred Wolf
    Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
    Göttingen Campus Institut für Dynamik biologischer Netzwerke (CIDBN) und 
    Max-Planck-Institut für Dynamik und Selbstorganisation
    Heinrich-Düker-Weg 12
    37073 Göttingen
    phone +49 551 39-26670

Questions on the DFG proposal process can be directed to:

Programme contact:

Administrative contact: