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Associated laboratories : EMBL (Germany)


• Cellular Architecture
Understanding biological phenomena from their myriad of components - systems biology - is the goal of our research. We are physicists fascinated by the intricate organization found in living cells. Our field is the cytoskeleton, and to calculate the collective behavior of fibers and associated proteins, we built a computer simulation ( This simulation is used to model processes such as the formation of a mitotic spindle, or the mechanisms by which cell shape is determined. We also work on the bench, currently focussing on Xenopus egg extracts, an experimental system in which many aspects of mitosis can be recapitulated. Using micro-fabrication we could measure experimentally how mitotic spindles adapt to different amounts of DNA. Following an engineering spirit, we are now trying to model the organization of the microtubules within a mitotic spindle.
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Contact : Francois Nedelec

• Developmental Biology
We aim to unravel the mechanisms that translate the complex regulatory informations present in vertebrate genomes into coherent and gene-specific expression programs. In particular, we explore the unknown function of the large non-coding intervals (“gene-deserts”) that constitute a substantial part of our genome, and the molecular mechanisms that control the interactions of remote cis-regulatory elements with the surrounding but distant genes. For this, we are using various chromosomal engineering approaches to modify the mouse genome. By studying the consequences (physiologic and molecular, ie. changes in gene expression, chromatin organization) of targeted alterations of the genome, we aim to shed light on the mechanisms linking genome architecture to gene function/expression and provide insights into evolution of gene regulation as well as in the molecular consequences of chromosomal abnormalities associated with human genetic diseases.
Contact : François Spitz

• Functional dynamics of nuclear structure during the cell cycle
The overall aim of our research is to elucidate the mechanisms underlying cell cycle remodelling of the nucleus in live cells. Biogenesis of the nucleus and the formation of M-phase chromosomes are essential but poorly understood processes. To study them, we are using advanced fluorescence microscopy-based methods to understand the dynamics and function of structural and regulatory proteins. Quantitative imaging is coupled with computerised image processing and simulations to extract biophysical parameters and build mechanistic models. As biological models, we are using somatic mammalian cells for mitosis, as well as oocytes from starfish and mouse, in which we study the asymmetric meiosis they undergo to become a fertilizable egg.

Contact : Jan Ellenberg