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Young Investigator Programme

French Research Receives EMBO Recognition

The EMBO Young Investigator Programme has announced its 2006 recipients: four of them are from French labs. As members of the three-year programme, they will be entitled to a range of academic, practical, and financial benefits.


© Current Biology, Luke B. et al., 2006.

Using DNA combing, Pasero's team can visualize replication fork progression (in green).


No microscope is needed to detect the smiles on the quartet of French molecular biologists who were named as beneficiaries of EMBO's1 Young Investigator Programme (YIP). The programme provides three years of support for researchers starting out in their career, including funding, conferences, and mentorship.

It also gives new researchers recognition from the eminent scientists that comprise EMBO's membership.

“EMBO is very respected in Europe. Most of the leaders in molecular biology become members,” says Philippe Pasero from the IGH,2  “it is important for our visibility.”

Pasero studies the mechanisms by which cells maintain their genomic integrity and their relation to how cells become cancerous. “The genome of cancer cells is very unstable–the way chromosomes rearrange themselves is key to that process,” explains Pasero, “the process of DNA replication could be behind this.”

Pasero's lab works with yeast cells, though he recently began collaborations that examine similar mechanisms in human cells. The opportunities for such teamwork should increase with the EMBO support.

The YIP is a welcome boost for a new researcher, as François-Xavier Barre from the CGM3 well knows. “To set up a lab is not easy. I wanted to move from the classical E. coli bacterial model to V. cholerae, the agent of cholera. That is quite a long process, and we need to collaborate with others to learn our techniques,” he explains.



© M.-E. Val

Chromosomal DNA localization in wild type Vibrio cholerae cells (fluorescent optical microscopy).

Barre's work focuses on how chromosomes are segregated in dividing cells. The process can become very complex in E. coli and V. cholerae, both of which have chromosomes shaped like closed rings. These rings can be chained or even fused together after duplication. The cell has sophisticated mechanisms to correct these problems, either separating the chromosomes before the cell divides or, if this is insufficient, bringing “reinforcements” for the separation effort at the time of cell division.

Bruno Klaholz from the IGBMC4 is expecting reinforcements of a sort for his own work,  in the form of a high-resolution electron microscope that will complement the tools he already uses to study the regulation of gene expression, especially protein synthesis and the effect of hydrophobic ligands like steroids and vitamin D on transcription. Using electron microscopes, x-ray crystallography, and other techniques, he can see cellular components at a variety of resolutions to create three-dimensional models that describe cellular mechanisms. Klaholz has seen Vitamin D bound to its nuclear receptor, and his high-tech tools have not lessened his sense of wonder. “[These] are exciting moments, realizing that you're among the first people to see it. You get to see directly the beauty of nature.” Klaholz is looking forward to explore potential collaborations at the first meeting of this year's YIP winners.

One researcher he is likely to meet is Jérôme Cavaillé from the LBME,5 a molecular biologist who studies the function of non-coding RNA. Regular RNA is normally a messenger, turning the code of DNA into proteins. There are roughly 25,000 genes in the human genome that are expressed in this way. There are as many, if not more, RNA segments that do not code for proteins but do have an effect on how genes are expressed, a growing field known as “RNomics.” Cavaillé is interested in non-coding RNAs whose genes violate classical Mendelian inheritance rules; “These small non-coding RNA genes are only expressed from one parental chromosome and not from both, as observed for the vast majority of our genes” he says. This epigenetic regulation is called genomic imprinting. He also focuses on C/D small non-coding RNA, which appears to be related to a rare disease called Prader-Willi syndrome, that causes insatiable appetite often leading to morbid obesity. While Cavaillé looks forward to the opportunities the YIP affords him, he is grateful for the stipend that comes with the grant. It's a small amount, he says, but he can spend it as his research demands, a freedom appreciated by a scientist whose work can go in unpredictable directions. The C/D small RNA link to Prader-Willi was “unexpected” explains Cavaillé, saying that EMBO supports this type of serendipity. “Our work points to the importance to support basic research,” he says.


Mark Reynolds

Notes :

1. European Molecular Biology Organization:
2. Institut de Génétique Humaine, Montpellier (CNRS / Université Montpellier 1 and 2).
3. Centre de Génétique Moléculaire, Gif sur Yvette (CNRS lab).
4. Institut de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, Strasbourg (CNRS / Université Strasbourg 1 / Inserm joint lab).
5. Laboratoire de Biologie Moléculaire des Eucaryotes, Toulouse (CNRS / Université Toulouse 3).

Contacts :

> François-Xavier Barre
CGM, Gif-sur-Yvette.
> Jérôme Cavaillé
IBME, Toulouse.
> Bruno Klaholz,
IGBMC, Strasbourg.
> Philippe Pasero
IGH, Montpellier.


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