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Directors' Research

Directors’ Research covers three thematically distinct research groups, headed by the Director of EMBL, the Director of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and Eric Karsenti.

Research in the Directors' Research Unit

Hentze Group RNA biology, metabolism and molecular medicine
Leptin Group Cell shape and morphogenesis: subcellular and supracellular mechanisms
Karsenti Group (Visiting) Planctonic ecosystems in TARA OCEANS expedition

The Hentze Group combines biochemical- and systems-level approaches to investigate the connections between gene expression, cell metabolism, and their role in human disease. Key goals of the group include collaborative efforts to: understand the basic mechanisms underlying protein synthesis and its regulation by miRNAs and RNA-binding proteins; explore, define and understand REM (RNA, Enzyme, Metabolite) networks; study the mechanisms and circuits that maintain iron homeostasis and its connection to the immune system; and understand more about the molecular pathways of iron overload, iron deficiency, and iron management disorders.

In investigating the mechanisms and forces that determine cell shape in Drosophila, the Leptin Group studies two cell types. They look at how the cells at the tips of the fruit fly’s tracheal system rearrange their components as they grow rapidly and branch out to carry air to the animal’s tissues. And at the tissue level, the group investigates how forces generated by single cells give the embryo’s ventral furrow its final shape. The group also studies medaka and zebrafish to understand how signals from damaged cells are recognised by the innate immune system. They are developing methods to assay immune and stress responses in real time as the fish’s cells encounter pathogens and stress signals.

Eric Karsenti (Karsenti Group (Visiting)), who moved from Head of the Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit to the Directors' Research, works along two lines. He is continuing some work on the principles that govern the organisation of cellular components into complex patterns, as well as on the collective behaviour of cells and their organisation in complex tissues, in collaboration with Lars Hufnagel and Darren Gilmour.

However his main activity has now shifted towards the coordination of the oceanographic expedition TARA OCEANS. This expedition involves a world-wide survey of microscopic marine ecosystems from viruses to zooplankton as well as the study of specific, poorly known coral reef ecosystems. The mission of the expedition is to bring back quantitative and qualitative data on the composition of these ecosystems as a function of geographic position and environmental conditions. The goal of this collection of samples and data is three-fold:

  1. to feed morpho-genomic analyses of these populations in order to better understand the nature of the organisms and genes expressed in a given oceanic environment.
  2. to better understand the evoution of marine organisms
  3. to feed dynamic ecological models of the co-evolution of these ecosystems with the hydro-climate.

In addition to coordinating the expedition, Eric Karsenti will interact with Jan Ellenberg (Ellenberg Group) at EMBL to develop high throughput imaging of protists and small metazoans, with Detlev Arendt (Arendt Group) on the biogeography and evolution of marine annelids and with Peer Bork (Bork Group) on the development of a database and genome analyses.