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ERC funding for research into the Anna Karenina principle in mice intestines

Thomas Bataillon from the Bioinformatics Research Centre (BiRC) and colleagues in Portugal will use an ERC Advanced Grant to conduct research into the evolution of intestinal bacteria in mice to test the so-called Anna Karenina hypothesis.

Thomas Bataillon and his Portuguese colleague Isabel Gordo will conduct research into the evolution of intestinal bacteria in mice. Private photo Photo: Privatfoto

The idea of the Anna Karenina principle for intestinal bacteria is that healthy individuals have a more uniform bacterial composition in their intestines than individuals with an imbalance in the composition of their intestinal bacteria. This imbalance can lead to many different disorders.

The principle takes its name from Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina because the first sentence of the novel reads: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

This is the point of departure for the research project Evolution in the Gut in Health and Disease: To study how natural selection creates diversity in the bacteria living in the intestines of healthy and ill individuals. In this context, the individuals will be mice, and they will model mammals in the project.

The project has received EUR 2.5 million in funding and EUR 400,000 of that will go to Associate Professor Thomas Bataillon's research at BiRC. The majority of the funding will be allocated to evolutionary biologist Isabel Gordo from the Instituto Gulbenkian Ciência in Portugal, who is head of the project.

"Isabel Gordo and I have collaborated on different bacterial systems for many years, and our interest is driven by the question: Can we predict the development of bacterial genera based on the basic principles that drive evolutionary processes? And Isabel has a cool experiment setup, where she can check which bacterial lineage is colonising the intestines of the mice," says Thomas Bataillon.

The questions and experiments that the researchers will address in the project combine evolution and medicine to help them understand how the development of bacteria is affected by diseases such as obesity and inflammatory bowel diseases, including cancer.

Further information

This is the second time that Thomas Bataillon has received a grant from European Research Council (ERC)

In 2012, he received DKK 9 million in an ERC Consolidator Grant for a five-year project aiming to create greater coherence between the evolutionary models that stem from laboratory experiments and 'real' evolution that takes place in nature.


Thomas Bataillon, Associate Professor
Bioinformatics Research Centre (BiRC)
Aarhus University
Mobile: +45 2782 7282
Mail tbata@birc.au.dk