What is your research focus?
We are interested in the mechanisms ensuring the specification, maintenance and recruitment of adult brain neural stem cells.
What current project are you excited about?
I am very excited about the processes that control the equilibrium between neural stem cell quiescence and recruitment, and how this fate decision is coordinated at the level of the stem cell population.
How long have you been working with zebrafish?
I started using the zebrafish model during my postdoc in 1995.
Getting to know you better
Where were you born/where did you grow up?
I was born in Lyon, France, and grew up in a small village nearby.
When did you realize you wanted to have a career as a scientist? /What made you realize you wanted to have a career as a scientist?
I think I was always interested in understanding the functioning, logic and evolution of things, from living beings to “drier” processes like math, civilizations or languages. As a teenager, I started spending my summer months participating in excavation campaigns, on roman age or prehistoric sites in France. I think this is where the urge to “decipher” what is hidden in a sample, or what a sample tries to tell us, first developed.
Where did you do your undergraduate studies? Did you do research with anyone?
I did my undergrad studies at “Ecole Normale Supérieure” in Paris, and during this time took the chance for 2 lab internships, a first one-year internship at the University of Ottawa (Canada) working on Drosophila development, and a second internship with Christo Goridis in Marseille (France) on neural development and neural cell adhesion in the mouse embryo. These two experiences drove the rest of my career towards research in biology, and also made me realize the beauty of embryos and the never-ending amazement of watching them develop.
Where did you do graduate studies and with whom? What did you work on?
I did my graduate studies in Paris at Hospital Salpêtrière under the direction of Dr. Marion Wassef, trying to identify genes controlling the specification and properties of the midbrain-hindbrain boundary of the embryonic neural tube. This work combined genetic approaches in mouse and experimental embryology in the chicken and quail. I analyzed the function of Wnt1, and showed in particular that it was necessary for the proper spatial segregation of the mid- and hindbrain territories.
Where did you do postdoctoral studies and with whom? What did you work on?
My postdoc was the first encounter with zebrafish, which I wanted to learn and experimentally manipulate both using classical embryology and genetics. For this I chose the lab of Dr. Robert Ho, at the time at Princeton University. My aim was to identify maternal determinants important for establishing embryonic polarities.
What other jobs have you had?
As for paid jobs, none.
Science and careers
Share a turning point or defining moment in your science/career.
The day when we realized, tracing over time expression of the her5:egfp transgene, that we could “follow” midbrain-hindbrain boundary progenitors day after day until adult stage, where these cells seemed to keep progenitor properties. In retrospect, this totally shifted my lab activities from the study of embryonic to adult neural stem cells.
If you could be present for any "Eureka" moment in history (i.e. the moment some scientific discovery was made), which moment would you choose? Why?
For me a most incredible and influential finding was the colinearity principle -ie. the arrangement of genes along the chromosome in the same order as the body segments they control-, discovered by Edward Lewis in Drosophila. This has shaped our understanding of embryonic development, and of the genome logic, in an immeasurable way. Obviously this was much anterior to my own arrival in science, but I am still amazed by this phenomenon.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in science/research?
I think I would first advise him/her to remain refractory to mode effects, impact factors and the like, and to remain purely driven by the desire to understand and generate knowledge on the mechanisms of life. Following one’s convictions and forging ahead is the key for solid and long-lived science.
I would also advise him/her to always analyze his/her biological samples twice: once to answer the initial question, and a second time to record (and dig into) exceptions to the rule.
Where do you think the next scientific breakthroughs are going to occur?
I see huge progress and hope towards deciphering the physical and energy laws of genomic organization, hence of gene expression. The impact on understanding cell fate choices, notably stochasticity, will be a revolution.
Outside of work
What do you enjoy doing outside of work/lab?
I have been dancing argentine tango, first in a dance company and now for pleasure, for the last 25 years. And I am ready to go on for 25 more!
If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
What are you reading right now (not including research papers)?
A Swiss book by Alex Capus entitled “Der Fälscher, die Spioning und der Bombenbauer” (which I am not sure was translated into English but could read as “The counterfeiter, the spy and the bombs maker”) and which relates the crossed fates of three historical characters, Emile Gillérion, Laura d’Oriano and the physicist Felix Bloch, in the 1930es. A beautiful demonstration of the unpredictable but relentless impact of destiny.
Name a favorite song or musical piece.
“Balada para un loco”, a piece from the composer Astor Piazzolla with lyrics from the poet Horacio Ferrer.
Favorite place you have lived or visited?
Iceland, by all means. Beautiful, alive and disturbing.
What career would you like to attempt if you could?
I would like to study the evolution of languages, and the logic and rules of grammars.
Provide a quote that speaks to you.
« Il n’y a pas de recherche appliquée, il n’y a que des applications de la recherche » (There is no “applied” research. There exists only research applications) / Louis Pasteur