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Dr. Eileen Furlong - Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prizewinner 2022

Functional Genome Biology, European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), Heidelberg

Dr. Eileen Furlong
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Dr. Eileen Furlong

© Dr. Eileen Furlong

Eileen Furlong is an outstanding researcher who receives the Leibniz Prize for her work in developmental biology on functional mechanisms of enhancers in gene regulation. Enhancers are specific sections in eukaryotic DNA that control gene regulation, i.e. the activity of genes. Furlong’s work on the properties of these enhancers was able to elucidate how genes are activated in the course of embryonic development. In particular, she has shown that many embryonic enhancers first programme a molecule that increases the transcription of regulated genes before receiving the signals to switch on. In her latest work, Furlong combines developmental biology, genomics and population genetics to elucidate mechanisms by which genetic variation as found in the wild causes a gene’s genetic information to appear. She was also an early adopter of different types of computer models, such as machine learning, to gain a better understanding of developmental trajectories. In this way, Furlong was able to raise population genetic developmental biology to a new level.

Furlong gained her PhD at the Department of Pharmacology and Biotechnology, University College Dublin in 1996. She then joined the Department of Developmental Biology at Stanford University as a postdoctoral researcher, where she stayed until 2002 before moving to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, initially as a group leader. Since 2009 she has headed the Department of Developmental Biology at EMBL. She has been successful in securing two ERC Advanced Grants to date.

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