EMBL, Cell Biology & Biophysics Unit
Sunday, 23 September, 18:00-19:00, Apollon Auditorium
A forgotten world: The living ocean
The first forms of life (bacteria-like particles) date back to 3.8 billions years, 1.3 billion years after the birth of our planet. Since then most forms of life have been found in the oceans for billions of years before appearing on land. In fact, most of the important evolutionary steps that led to complex mammals on land later on, like multicellularisation, bilateralisation, skeleton formation body plan genes, first appeared in organisms living in the oceans. This oceanic life in turn changed the chemistry of our atmosphere, removing most of the CO2 (the original earth atmosphere was anoxic and contained more than 90% CO2) and producing oxygen through photosynthesis, allowing the eventual emergence of placental organisms. Natural selection is but one of the many parameters that drove evolution of life on earth, especially in the oceans where the whole thing started. Symbiosis, altruism, collaborative and collective behaviors, genome exchanges and complex adaptations within large ecosystems are as important. Over billions of years, the chemistry, climate and geology of the earth have been co-evolving with living organisms and most of this happened in the oceans. I will show what we know today about this beautiful story and how we are trying to understand it better, using the modern tools of molecular biology and large-scale expeditions.
Eric Karsenti obtained his PhD from Paris University in 1979 (Laboratory of S. Avrameas, Pasteur Institute). He then moved to the University of California, San Francisco (1981), where he worked on the cell cycle and mitosis (Laboratory of Prof. M. Kirschner). He then joined EMBL as a group leader in 1985. Over the following 20 years, he has been one the leading scientists that contributed to the understanding of the cell cycle and mitotic spindle assembly.
He took over the leadership of the Cell Biology unit at EMBL when Kai Simons moved to Dresden. At this occasion, the unit was renamed Cell Biology and Biophysics. Eric Karsenti developed a new scientific culture, mixing group leaders trained in sophisticated imaging methods with biologists and physicists creating a new discipline that could be called Systemic Cell Biology.
Finally in 2008–2009, he organized the TARA OCEANS expedition that sailed around the world, finishing in March 2012. This has also been a very interesting scientific project in which he brought together physical oceanographers with marine biologists, imaging specialists, molecular biologists, bioinformaticians and modelers. The aim of this expedition is to better understand plankton organism evolution in an ecological context.