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New team : Iris Salecker

Iris Salecker has joined the IBENS as a newly recruited group leader and professor in December 2019. In this spotlight, we asked Iris about her scientific path, her research and imminent move to Paris.

My scientific path has been a journey of four countries. I obtained a Dipl. Biol. degree at the University of Regensburg in Germany in 1990. Following an internship at the CNRS in Gif-sur-Yvette in France, I completed my PhD studies in Neurobiology at the University of Regensburg, investigating the development of the olfactory system of big insects. For my postdoctoral training, I joined the team of Dr. Larry Zipursky at the University of California, Los Angeles, USA, where I found my fascination for the developing visual system of the fruit fly Drosophila. End of 2000, I moved to London in the United Kingdom to start my first independent group at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research, which became a founding partner of the Francis Crick Institute in 2015.

What drew me into the world of science ? A deep wish to understand - growing up in the country side south of Munich, surrounded by forests, lakes and rivers, I felt that all things in nature rather than those made by humankind held the most fascinating secrets. However, my trajectory was not planned. When I started my studies, I could not even have imagined what a life as a scientist really means, and I intuitively made my choices because it felt right one step at a time.

Research in our lab focuses on the part of the nervous system, which enables animals to see. In the visual system, photoreceptors are essential for detecting luminance signals. However, the underlying neural circuits perform the crucial spatio-temporal computations essential for encoding this information to eventually form an internal image of the external world in the brain. We are particularly fascinated by the question, how these circuits emerge during development. Answers will help us to understand how the brain develops in general and what may go wrong in a disease context.

Our model of choice is the visual system of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. This part of the fly brain is innervated by a wealth of different neuron subtypes. They are found in close association with another cell type in the brain, the glia. A conserved feature of visual circuit architecture is its organization into interconnected columns and layers. We would like to understand how neuron-neuron and neuron-glia interactions shape layered and columnar connectivity in space and time at the cellular and molecular level. Our projects use a multidisciplinary approach combining molecular biology, genetics, confocal and electron microscopy imaging, transcriptomics and mass spectrometry. This strategy enabled us, for instance, to uncover a novel mode of neurogenesis in Drosophila, which - similar to the mammalian brain - involves migratory progenitors. Conversely, our studies of a class of glia, called astrocytes, revealed a central role for the transmembrane protein Lapsyn in extending branches into the vicinity of neurons.

I have been in the clouds ever since I had received the results from the “concours” this spring. It is an honor for me to have been selected by the ENS and IBENS for this position. I became a developmental neurobiologist during my transformative stay as a student in Gif-sur-Yvette. My bonds to Paris and France, its scientific community and life never lost their pull over the years. I feel that the IBENS will be an inspiring scientific home for a new beginning of my group because of the excellence and richness of its science, its collegiality and welcoming spirit. Exposure to new topics, in particular in the fields of Developmental Neurobiology, Neuroscience and Genomics will help us to approach our research from different angles. I am equally excited to being part of the education team at the IBENS. The philosophy of teaching science as it happens at the bench and the significance given to personal mentoring and guiding students through their careers really stands out.

Our lab is on the first floor, please come by and visit us and our flies !

An eye in an eye
An eye in an eye