Back Four postdoctoral researchers will bring their talent to UPF thanks to the grants obtained in the European Marie Curie 2021 call

Four postdoctoral researchers will bring their talent to UPF thanks to the grants obtained in the European Marie Curie 2021 call

They will join the departments of Medicine and Life Sciences (Artemy Kolchinsky and Elena Muscolino), Humanities (Marija Blasokovic) and Information and Communication Technologies (Piotr Przybyla), under the supervision of senior UPF researchers, with stays of between two and two and a half years and grants in the region of 165,000 to 206,000 euros.


Imatge inicial

Four highly talented PhD researchers capable of making a positive impact on society and the economy, coming from various international universities, are to join UPF through grants obtained under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowships (MSCA-PF) 2021 call, the first in the framework of the new Horizon Europe innovation and research programme (2021-2027).

Artemy Kolchinsky, Elena Muscolino, Marija Blaskovic and Piotr Przybyla will join three different UPF departments to conduct their research.

Two of them will be linked to the Department of Medicine and Life Sciences (MELIS): Artemy Kolchinsky, from the University of Tokyo, with the project “NETOLife: Nonequilibrium thermodynamics of the origin of life”, and Elena Muscolino, from the Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology in Hamburg (with the project “EpiCoVs: The tRNA epitranscriptome: a novel player in viral infections”). They will be supervised, respectively, by Ricard Solé, ICREA research professor at the MELIS and director of the Complex Systems Laboratory (UPF and IBE) and Juana Díez, full professor and director of the Molecular Virology Laboratory of the MELIS. Both projects will run for two years and are endowed with grants of approximately 165,000 euros.

The other two fellows are on the one hand Marija Blaskovic, from the University of Vienna, who will conduct the project “FEMIber: Digitizing Women of Medieval Iberian Historiography”. She will join the Department of Humanities, under the supervision of María Morrás, a tenured lecturer of Spanish Literature and an expert on sexuality and gender, writers, female sanctity in the middle ages and at the beginning of the modern period. The project will run for two and a half years, and has been allocated around 206,000 euros.

On the other hand, Piotr Przybyla, from the Polish Academy of Sciences, will carry out the project “ERINIA: Evaluating the Robustness of Non-Credible Text Identification by Anticipating Adversarial Actions” at the DTIC. It will be supervised by Horacio Saggion, a member of the Natural Language Processing Research Group (TALN), where he directs the Large Scale Text Understanding Systems Lab, with a project running over two years and with funding of some 165,000 euros.

The Marie Sklodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowships 2021, convened by the European Commission, have a total budget of 242 million euros and will help 1,156 experienced postdoctoral fellows, selected from a total of 8,356 applications.

Its objective is to increase the creative and innovative potential of researchers from around the world who have a doctorate and wish to acquire new skills and competences and develop their professional career through international mobility, while bringing their talent to the host institutions.

NETOLife: research on fundamental thermodynamic thresholds to help understand the origin of life

It has been suggested that the laws of thermodynamics can be used to study the origin of life, in terms of the minimum free energy flows needed to perform basic functions such as self-maintenance and self-replication. A theory that enables us to understand how life originated must be compatible with physics and at the same time include information, which plays a key role in biology.

This problem has not been explored largely because conventional thermodynamics is restricted to systems that are in equilibrium, on a macroscopic scale, and that do not exchange information with their environments. “The first living systems probably did not follow any of these principles, so this project proposes studying them through the thermodynamics of non-equilibrium, an area in which there have been huge advances recently. Through NETOLife we aim to shed light on fundamental thermodynamic thresholds, which will have important implications for our theoretical understanding of the origin of life”, Artemy Kolchinsky explains.

EpiCoVs: combining cell biology and molecular virology to study the behaviour of certain pathogenic viruses

Viruses are intracellular parasites that rely entirely on cellular machinery to generate their components and multiply. Therefore, given their great efficiency, it would be foreseeable that they would fully adapt to the cellular machinery. However, this is not the case for many pathogenic viruses, such as the emerging dengue (DENV), zika (ZIKV) or the new SARS-CoV-2 viruses, which, contrary to what would be expected, express their components at an extremely high level.

The team of scientists led by Juana Díez has identified a new mechanism whereby viruses induce an adaptation of the machinery of the infected cell to the characteristics of the viral genome in order to maximize the expression of viral proteins. Using SARS-CoV-2 as a model, the proposed project will combine cell biology and molecular virology approaches with “omics” analyses to molecularly characterize this new mechanism along with all the cellular and viral components involved. “In addition, the antiviral therapeutic interest of the enzymes identified will be explored with the ultimate goal of developing effective broad-spectrum antivirals”, Elena Muscolino explains.

FEMiber: exploring gender in the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages through the creation of a digital database

The FEMIber project aims to study female representations in two medieval works: the “Chronicle of Castile” (Castile and Leon) and the Portuguese “Book of Genealogy” through digital humanities methods. Over two years, Marija Blaskovic will generate a digital prosopographic database (character description) of the women represented; she will explore the patterns and trends of the elements used by the socio-political and family orders in the two kingdoms through the gender perspective, and will carry out a six-month internship at the Madrid company DIGIBÍS, a pioneer in Spain in the digitization of heritage.

“FEMIber aims to explore gender during the Middle Ages in the Iberian Peninsula in a way that incorporates emerging technologies, while fostering lasting links with society and cultural heritage in general”, Marija Blasokovic sets out.

ERINA: evaluating the robustness of identifying fake news using natural language processing methods

Recent research has shown that state-of-the-art methods of artificial intelligence, especially natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning, can detect phenomena such as fake news, social media bots or the use of propaganda techniques. However, little attention has been paid to the robustness of these approaches, which is particularly important in the case of deliberate disinformation, as authors attempt to trick any automatic filtering algorithm to achieve their goals.

ERINA will use methods that cause small disturbances to a given piece of text, so that its meaning is preserved, but which imply that the output of the investigated classifier is inverted. “The aim of the project is to explore the robustness of text classifiers in this area of application by investigating methods for detecting disinformation through contradictory examples”, Piotr Przybyla outlines.


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