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Marie Curie Actions fellowships back project probing early settlement in Europe

The EU is a strong supporter of young scientists' efforts to foster knowledge and to develop innovative tools through myriad research studies, regardless of the fields in question. A case in point is a new multinational educational network backed under the EU's Marie Curie Actions fellowships (Seventh Framework Programme - FP7), called BEAN ('Bridging the European and Anatolian Neolithic: demography, migration, and lifestyle at the advent of civilisation'). This project, which has clinched a Marie Curie Initial Training Network grant worth more than EUR 2.5 million, seeks to optimise the skills of a new generation of researchers in population genetics, computer modelling, anthropology, prehistory and demography.

Led by a team of anthropologists at Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz in Germany, the BEAN partners hail from France, Germany, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

One of the objectives of the network is to shed light on the origin of first farmer settlements, which were initially established around 8 000 years ago in West Anatolia, commonly referred to as Asia Minor, and the Balkans. People question where these individuals came from: Were they migrants from the Middle East, and are they our ancestors?

Overall, seven research institutions and two commercial companies are collaborating on the BEAN project, with two leading researchers serving the network in an advisory capacity. The partners will combine teaching and research in the fields of anthropology and genetics, computer simulation and modelling, and prehistoric archaeology. Special emphasis is being placed on providing sophisticated training in palaeo-genomics, mathematical modelling of prehistoric culture change and statistical demographic inference methods.

Zuzana Fajkošová, a doctoral candidate who studied at Masaryk University and Charles University in the Czech Republic, will be the first of two BEAN researchers to begin work at the Mainz's Institute of Anthropology in July. Her work will focus on evaluating deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) from the bones of the last hunter-gatherers and the first settled farmers in the region between Asia Minor and the Balkans. In cooperation with colleagues in Ireland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, she will use next-generation sequencing (NGS) to generate genomic data and develop a model for the settlement of Europe.

'It is both a great honour and a huge opportunity for me that I can work together with such renowned researchers,' says Dr Fajkošová. 'I'm looking forward to Mainz, the university and the institute's new building.'

BEAN coordinator Professor Joachim Burger says: 'A major factor leading to her appointment was the fact that besides mastering biomolecular techniques, she also has good programming skills. A few years ago, we more or less founded the discipline of Neolithic palaeo-genetics single-handedly. However, undertaking genomic projects is possible only with the help of international colleagues. That is why we are so pleased that such networks give us and our colleagues the chance to train young research talents.'

The young scientists will complete academic and practical work, in cooperation with the network's two companies.

For more information, please visit: Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz http://www.uni-mainz.de/eng/

BEAN project factsheet on CORDIS, click: http://cordis.europa.eu/projects/rcn/101714_en.html

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