The European Research Council funds neurobiologist with 1.5 Million Euros

Ilona Grunwald Kadow receives Starting Grant for the study of how we decide what to choose

February 10, 2015

The Starting Grants of the European Research Council (ERC) seek to give talented scientists at an early stage in their careers the freedom to pursue their most creative ideas. Ilona Grunwald Kadow, Max Planck Research Group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, was one of this year's successful Starting Grant applicants - prevailing against thousands of other applicants. With the 1.5 Million Euros she will receive over the period of five years, Ilona Grunwald Kadow and her group will investigate how the internal states hunger, mating state and sickness change the perception and processing of sensory information.

Ilona Grunwald Kadow was awarded approximately 1.5 Million Euro from the European Research Council. She aims at understanding how the body's internal state influences processing of sensory information and decision making.

How do we decide what to choose? We all have certain preferences and aversions. Some of these are innate, others are acquired. Yet all of these need to be constantly re-evaluated according to the current situation and requirements. Using the fruit fly Drosophila, Ilona Grunwald Kadow and her team investigate how the brain integrates environmental cues and internal states in order to generate a situational behavior. Recently, the scientists discovered that the animals' willingness to take risks change, depending on whether they are hungry or sated. They found that hunger not only modifies behavior, but also changes pathways in the brain. A hungry fly uses different brain regions than a sated individual and is thus able to come to a balanced decision, including current internal and external signals.

Supported by the ERC Starting Grant, Ilona Grunwald Kadow and her team aim to show how hunger, mating state and sickness change the perception and processing of odors and tastes in the fly brain. Ultimately, the results will help to understand also human choice behaviors. Similar to flies, humans behave differently when they are sated, hungry, ill or pregnant. This state-dependent behavior can be crucial for survival as well as for the healthy development of the offspring.

The European Research Council received 3,273 grant applications during the past call period. Overall, 10% of the applications were successful. The budget of 485 Million Euro is shared out between 328 applications from 38 nations. In Germany, 70 applicants were awarded a Starting Grant. Two of these awardees originate at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried near Munich, where not only Ilona Grunwald Kadow but also Gurumoorthy Krishnamoorthy was selected for funding.


Ilona Grunwald Kadow studied biology at the universities of Goettingen and San Diego, USA. She worked on her PhD thesis at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg and the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried. Subsequently, she worked at the University of California in Los Angeles, USA. Since the end of 2008, Ilona Grunwald Kadow heads an independent research group at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology. The value of her work has been acknowledged by several grants and awards.

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