Bringing researchers together, strengthening key research areas, and working together to open up new fields: The Austrian Science Fund FWF’s Special Research Areas create synergies and research networks on an international scale. In the most recent round of calls, 24 consortia submitted pre-proposals for international review. Four teams were invited to submit a full proposal, and of these, two were approved for funding totaling €8 million over the next four years. In addition to the two new networks, the FWF approved continued funding for three existing Special Research Areas. 

New research networks based on international standards 

The first new Special Research Area to investigate the effects of climate change on genetic adaptation is coordinated by evolutionary geneticist Neda Barghi from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, who will be working closely with researchers from the Gregor Mendel Institute of Molecular Biology, ISTA, and the University of Vienna. The second Special Research Area for the analysis of historical power structures is coordinated by historian Andreas Zajic from the Academy of Sciences. This network includes researchers from the University of Vienna, the University of Graz, the Albertina, and Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Special Research Areas strengthen cross-institutional collaboration

One objective of FWF funding is to produce excellent research networks. Austrian research institutions are given the opportunity to firmly anchor promising researchers and to sharpen their own research profile. Teamwork is emphasized, with up to 15 researchers joining forces in each Special Research Area. The focus is often on multi- or interdisciplinary research topics.

“Special Research Areas bring together existing expertise at Austria's research institutions, allowing new networks to develop according to international standards. Linking different areas of expertise not only adds value for everyone involved, but also increases the knowledge gained in the end,” says FWF President Christof Gattringer, who warmly congratulates the newly funded researchers. 

“I’d also like to point out again this year that there would be even more potential for Special Research Areas in Austria. We are already at the point where we don’t have the budgetary means to fund all the excellent consortia we would like to. Whether we will be able to offer further Special Research Areas in the future depends on the Fonds Zukunft Österreich and on FWF’s funding budget for the period 2024 to 2026,” says Gattringer on the uncertain future of this funding program. A decision on whether the Special Research Areas funding program can be offered again will be made in the spring of 2023.

The new Special Research Areas at a glance

Special Research Area “Polygenic adaptation” 

Coordination: Neda Barghi, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna
Research Network: Gregor Mendel Institute of Molecular Biology/ÖAW (Magnus Nordborg, Kelly Swarts), ISTA (Nicholas Barton), University of Vienna (Joachim Hermisson, Himani Sachdeva), University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna (Robert Kofler, Christian Schlötterer) 
Funding Volume: €3.9 million | four-year term

Climate change, like any other environmental modification, triggers genetic adaptation This process typically involves the contribution of many genes, each with small effect, and is called ‘polygenic adaptation.’ The Special Research Area brings together a team of scientists with complementary expertise to tackle this problem. The goal of this joint research program is to develop a general framework for the understanding of polygenic adaptation. To achieve this goal, the project combines theoretical modelling with empirical data, genome-wide association studies in Arabidopsis and Norway spruce, and experimental evolution in Drosophila. This project builds on the exceptionally strong expertise in population genetics in Vienna and combines theory and experiments on polygenic adaptation in a synergistic manner. This research will advance our understanding of polygenic adaptation and benefit breeders, farmers, ecologists, and geneticists both locally and in the international community.

Special research area “Managing Maximilian” 

Coordination: Andreas Zajic, Austrian Academy of Sciences
Research Network: Albertina (Christof Metzger), Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna (Stefan Krause), University of Graz (Georg Vogeler), University of Vienna (Elisabeth Klecker, Birgit Lodes, Christina Lutter, Stephan Müller)
Funding Volume: €4 million | four-year term

Was he the “last knight” or the “first modern media professional”? The many contradictory opinions about King or Emperor Maximilian I (who ruled from 1493-1519) have one thing in common: They assume that the ruler would have been the only one crafting his policies and the solitary mastermind behind his propaganda. In fact, a variety of different stakeholders were involved in the conception and implementation of his rule and in the art and culture practiced at his court. 

The Special Research Area will investigate the personnel structures of Maximilian's governance and use a prosopographic data collection covering up to 200,000 individuals from the Emperor's staff to evaluate information contained in written sources and make it accessible. This will allow the researchers to gain new insights into decision-making processes in the council and in the various offices. Gender roles and gender images in the ruler's environment will be critically examined. An interdisciplinary reassessment of Maximilian-era prints and paintings, Plattner art and architecture, music and dance, and German-language and Latin poetry will be analyzed from an actor-centered perspective. At the same time, the Special Research Area expands the concept of a cultural history of the political to include digital prosopographic methods.

In addition to the two new Special Research Areas, the FWF will provide continued funding for the following three existing Special Research Areas for another four years, with a total funding volume of €15 million:

Special Research Area “Histone deacetylases as regulators of T-cell-mediated immunity”

Coordination: Wilfried Ellmeier, Medical University of Vienna
Research Network: CeMM Research Center for Molecular Medicine, Paris Lodron University Salzburg, University of Vienna 

Special Research Area “Quantum Information Systems Beyond Classical Capabilities” 

Coordination: Walther Philip, University of Vienna
Research Network: ISTA, University of Innsbruck, University of Vienna 

Special Research Area “Special Research Areas Lipidhydrolysis: Cellular lipid degradation pathways”

Coordination: Dagmar Kratky, Medical University of Graz
Research Network: Medical University of Vienna, TU Wien, University of Graz 

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