Chantal Abergel is Research Director at CNRS and Director of the Genomics and Structural Information Laboratory in Marseille (France).
The lab is composed of 22 persons including 3 permanent CNRS Scientists , 2 permanent professors and 8 permanent CNRS Engineers.
Chantal Abergel has a Ph.D. in Materials Science. She worked on the rationalization of protein crystallization:
- Study of the effect of microgravity on protein crystallization (3 experiments onboard the US space shuttle (Discovery, 1989-90, Colombia 1990).
- Introduction of statistical approaches to improve protein crystallization yields.
- In depth analysis of protein sequences to identify possible ligands to improve protein crystallization.
She did a 5 years postdoctoral degree in the United States at the National Institute of Health, in structural biology.
She was recruited at CNRS in 1995 as a research engineer to co-fund with Jean-Michel Claverie the Structural and Genomics Information laboratory in Marseille. This was the first French laboratory combining bioinformatics with experimental biology.
Structural biologist by training, the discovery of the first giant virus, Mimivirus in 2004, marked a turning point in her scientific career.
As the Head of the experimental group at IGS, she decided to develop the tools and methodologies that would allow to penetrate this fascinating new world and first of all demonstrate that giant viruses were everywhere in the environment. That's how she developed cell biology and imaging techniques to complement the molecular studies involving biochemistry and structural biology that were already mastered in the lab.
In the following years, they isolated a distant relative of Mimivirus, validating this intuition that they were opening a new field in virology, namely environmental virology.
The laboratory is focused on the study of the 4 families of giant viruses currently described, the Mimiviridae and the Pandoraviridae on one hand, and the Pithoviridae and Mollivirus whose first representatives were isolated from permafrost samples more than 30,000 years old. Their discoveries are challenging the concept of virus as well as their origin, their evolution and the role they could have played in the emergence of the cellular life. They now use a combination of experimental approaches with theoretical studies to better understand the role of giant viruses in the evolution of the cellular world as well as their ecological role in the environment.
She is the author/co-author of about a hundred publications and about fifty structures of proteins.
Awards and Honors:
Price FRM Lucien Tartois (2017)
Price “La recherche” (2015)
Price Bettencourt-Schueller: Coup d’élan pour la recherche Française (2014)
Silver Medal CNRS (2014)
Chevalier dans l’ordre national de la légion d’honneur (2014)