Biologist Eric Karsenti is awarded the 2015 CNRS Gold Medal
Born on 10 September 1948 in Paris, Eric Karsenti began his research career at the Institut Pasteur’s immunocytochemistry laboratory, where he defended his PhD thesis in 1979. Recruited by the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research) in 1976, he then did his post-doctorate on temporary assignment to the University of California, San Francisco, from 1981 to 1984. On his return from the US, he led a team in the department of cell biology at The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, which rapidly stood out as one of the most influential teams in the booming field of cell cycle research. From 2001 to 2003, Karsenti headed the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris with the same objective in mind. At the same time, he acted as an adviser to Elisabeth Giacobino, Director of Research at the French Ministry of Research. It was while he was in Paris that he first thought up the scientific expedition around the world that he had dreamed of ever since he was a child. The project became reality in 2009 with Tara Oceans. Now a senior researcher emeritus at the CNRS, Karsenti is currently assigned to the Institute of Biology at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (CNRS/ENS/Inserm), while remaining director of Tara Oceans and a visiting researcher at the EMBL.
A leading figure in the field of cell biology, Karsenti and his team at the EMBL have made key discoveries about cell cycle regulation. More specifically, he has focused on the clock that controls cell divisions in the embryo and regulates cytoskeleton dynamics during mitosis, which is the stage of cell division. One of their ground-breaking discoveries concerns the key role of chromosomes in mitotic spindle assembly during this process. This is the first time that scientists elucidate how complex functions emerge from the collective behavior of cell components.
Working in close collaboration with physicists, Karsenti has also set up a platform to model cell organization at a very detailed level. He has pioneered interdisciplinary approaches in cell biology by combining measurements of forces and mathematical modeling with synthetic biology and cutting-edge imaging techniques. His work has given rise to more than 200 scientific papers.
A keen sailor with a great sense of adventure, Eric Karsenti embarked upon a new project, Tara Oceans. To ensure success, he brought together a highly skilled international interdisciplinary team, made up of 140 experts in genomics, quantitative imaging, biology, biogeochemistry, biogeography, oceanography, biophysics, genetics, ecology, bioinformatics, etc, from 23 international laboratories. Between 2009 and 2013, the Tara Oceans expedition collected 35,000 samples of plankton from around 210 representative sites in a number of the world’s seas, during a 140,000 km voyage. Dried and refrigerated, these samples make up the largest database of its kind ever collected almost simultaneously. Marine ecosystem modeling can now be adapted to a new era based on the complexity of reality, rather than having to rely on rudimentary models. The researchers’ first articles, published in the journal Science1 in May 2015, are only the beginning, highlighting how fruitful the mission has been. In charge of quantitative imaging for Tara Oceans within the Océanomics consortium, Karsenti is now seeking to combine high-speed imaging of organisms with genomic data, in collaboration with his colleagues at the Roscoff and EMBL laboratories.
Eric Karsenti was previously awarded the CNRS Silver Medal. He has been a member of the French Academy of Sciences since 1999 and is a "Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur" (Knight of the French Legion of Honor).
Mr. Eric Karsenti will be awarded on the 14th of December in a French university named “La Sorbonne”.