Meet FEMS Expert: Chantal Abergel

13-08-18 Carianne Buurmeijer

This month we are joined by Dr Chantal Abergel, who is a FEMS Expert from the European Academy of Microbiology (EAM). The EAM is a leadership group of around 150 eminent microbiology experts who came together in 2009 to amplify the impact of microbiology and microbiologists in Europe.

Chantal was the Co-founder of the Structural and Genomic Information (IGS) laboratory at the CNRS with Jean-Michel Claverie to create the first French laboratory combining bioinformatics with experimental biology.

What are you currently researching?

“Our laboratory is involved in the isolation of new members of the known families of giant viruses from various environmental samples and try to increase the number of known families by prospecting exotic environment and use alternative hosts.

Genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics are systematically used to study our viruses’ evolution and the cross-talk taking place between the virus and their hosts. We also develop with the support of the bioinformatics team the analytical tools necessary to study our giant viruses’ physiology using a combination of genetics, structural biology, and cellular biology including in vivo expression and electron and fluorescence microscopy.

What has been the most unusual or surprising finding in this line of research?

“Giant viruses by themselves and the most spectacular Pandoraviridae with their genomes encoding >2000 genes 90% of which encoding proteins never seen in the cellular or viral world.

We are not able to manipulate the host Acanthamoeba and thus genetic studies of the viral genes is highly challenging. Elucidation of the function of all those Orfans is also challenging as very often they correspond to new folds and thus we lack entry points for functional experiments. We use convergent approaches to get some hypotheses and restrict our prospections to the most probable.

What aspect of this project have you most enjoyed? 

“It is fully exploratory and thus we are always surprised. I hope that this project and new knowledge, possibly the identification of entirely new metabolic pathways could open new windows on the evolution of life on earth and on the contribution of viruses to it.”

To find out more about the inspiring network of microbiology experts we work with, take a look at their profiles.

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