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C├ęcile Courret

Postdoctoral Research Associate, The Larracuente Lab

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You work in a laboratory.  What are you currently researching?

My current project focuses on centromere evolution. Centromeres are essential structures for proper chromosome segregation and cell division. Centromere defects lead to genome instability and human diseases. To date, centromeres are defined epigenetically by the presence of the centromere histone H3 variant, CENP-A. However, we know little of the role of DNA sequences in centromere function because they are highly repetitive, making them difficult to study. Recently, the Larracuente lab and collaborators revealed that all centromeres in D. melanogaster correspond to islands of complex DNA enriched in retroelements and flanked by tandem repeats. Our goal is to study the evolution of centromere composition to gain insights into the role of DNA sequence in centromere biology. We study centromere organization in three sister species: D. simulans, D. sechellia, and D. mauritiana. We aim to study the dynamics of centromeric DNA within these closely related species and the functional impact of DNA turnover on chromosome segregation.

What advice would you give to prospective students looking to study in our department? 

Be curious. You have the chance to be surrounded by a large diversity of researchers. Ask questions, talk with them about their projects. You can work in different labs trying diverse things. For me, research is all about passion and you need to find it. If you don’t try, how could you know if you prefer bioinformatic or molecular biology, evolution or development, or everything. And keep in mind that biology will always surprise you.

What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned working here and/or studying biology?

Research requires uncommon persistence. Don’t be disappointed if your experiments fail, this is normal. It happens all the time to everyone. An experiment which runs perfectly the first time is the exception, not the rule.

How do you think our biology department stands out in comparison to other universities? 

The Department of Biology is highly dynamic. Outside the classical weekly seminars, they organize or participate in various scientific events. Students are always highly encouraged to participate in those events.

How do you unwind when you’re not in the lab?

My favorite way to relax after lab is certainly climbing. I consider climbing a highly complete sport at the physical and mental level. I don’t like competition and climbing is a very friendly sport with a lot of solidarity. I also practice other outdoor sports such as skiing or scuba diving, and recently I also started wakeboarding, but for now I spend more time in the water than on the board. I also have quieter hobbies like cooking, reading or knitting. And of course I love to hang out with my friends.