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Quinta Grande The Newsletter of the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência

Summer 2009| Issue 4

In this edition: •

Advisory Board: A team of Excellence

Workshop on Biophysical Mechanisms of Development: A great success!

“This will make you depressed”: Interview with Lynn Margulis

Researchers’ Night 2009 : Setting the Stage in Portugal

Fundraising at IGC: Three successeful events

IGC researchers win prizes

Image: Lars Jansen and Sílvia Castro

The secrets of the IGC An open letter to IGC scientists by Jonathan Howard This edition is available online at: www.igc.gulbenkian.pt


Have your say

‘Quinta Grande’ aims to be a forum to communicate events and any news which may be of interest to those who work either at or with the IGC. If you have any suggestions of topics to be discussed here, please e-mail them to: quintagrande@igc.gulbenkian.pt

Biology in Modern Times

An informal seminar series for school teachers will start in September 2009 and will continue throughout the academic year on the last friday of the month.

IGC´s Open Day

It is already time to prepare for the IGC 2009 Open Day. This year we are going to open our doors and research on November 28th (Saturday) to concide with the national week for science and technology.

Social Networks http://www.facebook.com/ pages/Instituto-Gulbenkian-deCiencia/58041555823

http://twitter.com/IGCiencia

http://www.youtube.com/user/ IGCiencia Quinta Grande, Issue 4, Summer 2009 Coordinator: Ana Godinho Editor: Sílvia Castro Contributors: Ana Godinho; Ana Catarina Certal; António Coutinho; Barbara Vreede; Catarina Júlio; Filipe Cadete; Maria João Leão; Organising Committee of the Workshop on Biophysical Mechanisms of Development, Sílvia Castro; Vitor Faustino Graphic design: Paulo Emiliano Circulation: 400 Address: Rua da Quinta Grande, 6 2780-156 Oeiras, Portugal Telephone: +351 214 464 537 Fax.: +351 214 407 970 www.igc.gulbenkian.pt Cover: A cell seen through a microscope: the chromosomes (in blue) are attached to the microtubule tracks (in red); green spots mark the protein CENP-A on the centromere.

Editorial: The secrets of the IGC SAB An open letter to IGC scientists by Jonathan Howard* It’s a career stage of course: Phd Student, Post-Doc, Group Leader, Professor, SAB (Scientific Advisory Board) member. Each step has its own character and concerns. At the SAB we discuss SABs. There are not so good ones, good ones, and better ones. What counts are the renown of the institution, the quality of the company, and whether the Institute Direction takes any notice of what we say. When such professional talk is exhausted, there is the question: How many? Last time Martin Raff won with 18 (can I possibly have remembered that right?). But now let me tell you a secret: the IGC SAB is the best one. Why? Well, above all because Antonio Coutinho does all the work first. At the same time, he not merely preserves, but actively conspires to enhance the illusion that decisions critical to the future of the IGC hang on the uncertain outcome of our meetings. He presents us as the President of the US might present the Supreme Court, a conclave of ultimate experts, judicious and trusted, perhaps, but wielding the ultimate power. Did you really believe that? You should read the emails we get from Antonio before the SAB meetings....! No, we have no stress from difficult decisions. Actually we have no stress at all. Coming to the SAB, chaperoned by Greta, driven by Carlos, is far preferable to giving a seminar somewhere or going to a meeting: no awkward questions or aggressive competitors, no ultra-smart post-docs to damage ones self-esteem. When was the last time you went to give a lecture and they sent a car to pick you up from the airport? Well, to be honest that probably happens to everybody else on the SAB, but it doesn’t happen to me. You can be forgiven for believing that we are here to visit you, but you should realise you are not the only source of delight on a SAB visit. If you thought about it, you would realise we provide the fun for each other. Scandal, gossip, even science; David Sabatini’s bottomless pool of knowledge of Spanish and Portuguese history; Martin Raff’s expert enthusiasms for the latest spectacular electronic aid to the good life, some years ago Skype and the iPOD, now Amazon’s Kindle. Finally, there is Sydney Brenner’s brain, his infinite memory spanning the whole era of molecular genetics, his incredible grasp of what is going on everywhere today, his wonderful stories and his crazy jokes. So the SAB enjoys its visits very much indeed; whether in English, French, Spanish or Portuguese, we enjoy talking to Antonio, to each other, and, I must immediately add, to Professor Diogo Lucena, our minder at the Gulbenkian Foundation, to whom we and the IGC have every reason to be extremely grateful for friendship and support. For all these distractions, though, the SAB is well aware of what has been happening over the last decade, and is still happening to the IGC. At the most superficial level, we see a physical structure that has evolved from a barely habitable, antiquated building into an immensely attractive, extremely well (cont.) This edition of “Quinta Grande” was sponsored by:

www.alfagene.pt/


(cont.) equipped modern research institute. And as the renewal has proceeded we have seen the IGC fill up with an outstanding, enthusiastic and an effective community of young scientists as it is possible to find anywhere else in the world. One of our few real duties on the SAB is to listen to the recruitment talks of young scientists competing to join the IGC, and every year it is a matter of real delight how excellent they are, and increasingly drawn from all the major international centres of biological science. Let us also note that some of these excellent young people are alumni of the famous Gulbenkian graduate programme, conceived by Antonio at this Institute. The IGC is now truly competing at the highest level. We notice something else of high importance, and that is the atmosphere of youth and enthusiasm. Despite the fragile employment situation that most of you have to live with, we do not see the anxiety and stress and internal competition that might be expected, but rather increasingly optimism, collaboration and the pursuit of common goals. Over the last few years, the Portuguese biomedical landscape has been transformed by the munificent endowment of the Champalimaud Foundation. The IGC, the Gulbenkian Foundation and the Champalimaud Foundation have very skilfully managed to find common ground and a common way

forward. That this has been achieved is a tribute to the managers of all three organisation. As a result, the IGC has become a major European centre of neurobiology, both in its own right and as host to the new and very strong Champalimaud neurobiology programme, accommodated at the IGC while it waits for the completion of its majestic new building in Belém. The SAB has played a small role wherever possible in facilitating this cooperation and was delighted to learn at the last meeting how much progress is being made towards a common future for the two research structures. Lastly a word about Antonio. It is impossible to do justice to the importance of his creativity, his engagement, his enormous talents and his generosity in building up an institute like the IGC. It is a privilege to work with him.

(*) Prof. Jonathan C. Howard heads the Cell Biology of the Interferon-γ Response group at the Institute for Genetics of the University of Cologne and is a member of IGC´s Scientific Advisory Board.

The return of the post-doctoral fellows workshop series: A great success! The Workshop on Biophysical Mechanisms of Development, organized by a group of IGC post-doctoral fellows, was by all accounts a great success. This event took place on May 25-27th, and brought together twelve outstanding invited speakers and more than sixty other participants from seven different countries, whose expertise intersected the fields of Developmental Biology and Physics. There were five selected short talks and more than thirty poster presentations. The aim of our workshop was to encourage communication and discussion among these different scientists and to promote future collaborations. Such an aim was definitely achieved as many new collaborative projects were streamlined between IGC, IMM and FCUL scientists and various speakers and participants of this workshop. The areas of research covered by the workshop were “Tension and Morphogenesis”, “Bioelectricity and Ion Dynamics”, “Extracellular Matrix Dynamics and Morphogen Gradients” and “Fluid Flow and Mechanotransduction”. Within these topics, we discussed many developmental processes such as dorsal closure, tissue regeneration, collective cell migration and leftright determination. Model organisms were extremely diverse including planaria, Dictyostelium, plants, Drosophila, zebrafish, Xenopus, chicken and mouse. As a summary, the concluding round table on “Frontiers in Developmental Biophysics” conveyed the urge for more rigorous quantitative studies in development and the common need for novel computational tools and image information systems for morphogenesis processes. The general consensus

by the Organising Committee was that gatherings as fruitful as this one will be instrumental to this end, and thus should be repeated in the future. You can find further information on the workshop speakers and scientific programme at: http://www.igc.gulbenkian.pt/workshopbmd/ And take a look at the workshop pictures at: http://www.facebook.com/photos.php?id=1807297147

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Researchers’ Night 2009 – Setting the Stage in Portugal by Ana Godinho and Vitor Faustino Can scientists do stand-up comedy? Can they even act? 25th September 2009 is the day to find the answers to these and other deep and meaningful questions: researchers across Portugal will take to the stage in an IGC-coordinated project for the 2009 edition of Researchers’ Night, a Europe-wide initiative promoted and funded by the 7th Framework Programme (FP7) of the European Commission. Right now, in Porto, Coimbra, Lisbon and Olhão, scientists and theatre performers are working together to produce performances of forum theatre, puppetry, physical theatre, stand-up comedy. This is not ‘science on stage’ – don’t expect big explosions or giant soap bubbles – this is scientists using theatre and performing arts to engage the public in the reality of being a scientist, their expectations, and their relationships with society. The aim is to get the public talking back…or acting back, as may be the case.

Some of our recent papers: Work published by IGC researchers between March-July 2009: • Baron, R.A., Tavare, R., Figueiredo, A.C., Blazewska, K.M., Kashemirov, B.A., McKenna, C.E., Ebetino, F.H., Taylor, A., Rogers, M.J., Coxon, F.P., Seabra, M.C. (2009). Phosphonocarboxylates inhibit the second geranylgeranyl addition by Rab geranylgeranyl transferase. J Biol Chem 284, 6861-6868. • Bettencourt-Dias, M., and Goshima, G. (2009). RNAi in Drosophila S2 Cells as a Tool for Studying Cell Cycle Progression. Methods Mol Biol 545, 39-62. • Brito, P.H., and Edwards, S.V. (2009). Multilocus phylogeography and phylogenetics using sequence-based markers. Genetica 135, 439-455. • Cabrito, T.R., Teixeira, M.C., Duarte, A.A., Duque, P., and Sa-Correia, I. (2009). Heterologous expression of a Tpo1 homolog from Arabidopsis thaliana confers resistance to the herbicide 2,4-D and other chemical stresses in yeast. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. • Carroll, C.W., Silva, M.C., Godek, K.M., Jansen, L.E., and Straight, A.F. (2009). Centromere assembly requires the direct recognition of CENP-A nucleosomes by CENP-N. Nat Cell Biol 11, 896-902. • Carvalho, I.S., Cavaco, T., Carvalho, L.M., and Duque, P. Effect of photoperiod on flavonoid pathway activity in sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam.) leaves. Food Chemistry In Press, Corrected Proof. • Cheng, C., Noordeloos, A.M., Jeney, V., Soares, M.P., Moll, F., Pasterkamp, G., Serruys, P.W., and Duckers, H.J. (2009). Heme oxygenase 1 determines atherosclerotic lesion progression into a vulnerable plaque. Circulation 119, 30173027. • Coelho, F.C., and Codeco, C.T. (2009). Dynamic modeling of vaccinating behavior as a function of individual beliefs. PLoS Comput Biol 5, e1000425. • Darwich L ., Coma G., Pena R., Bellido R., Blanco E.J.J., Este J.A., Borras F.E., Clotet Quinta Grande| Summer 2009| 4

Around the core of theatre and performing arts, a panoply of interactive activities will pop up, including hands-on experiments, ´speed-dating´ with scientists, café and bar scientifiques and sci-art installations. There will be something for everybody: families, children, teenagers, adults, corporate groups, all at no cost – entry is free! This is a truly multidisciplinary project, involving research institutes, universities, a science museum, theatre groups and a small-medium enterprise. In Lisbon, everything will happen in the gardens of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, on Avenida de Berna, in the area around the open-air amphitheatre. Visit the ‘Cientistas ao Palco’ website to find out more and, if you are a researcher, sign up for the activities! www.cientistasaopalco.com

B., Ruiz L., Rosell A., Andreo F., Parkhouse R.M.E., Bofill M (2009). Secretion of interferongamma by human macrophages demonstrated at the single-cell level after costimulation with interleukin (IL)-12 plus IL-18. Immunology 126, 386-393. • Duarte, J.H., Zelenay, S., Bergman, M.L., Martins, A.C., Demengeot, J. (2009). Natural Treg cells spontaneously differentiate into pathogenic helper cells in lymphopenic conditions. European Journal of Immunology 39, 948-955. • Dugue, G.P., and Mainen, Z.F. (2009). How serotonin gates olfactory information flow. Nat Neurosci 12, 673-675. • Gallardo, C., Reis, A.L., Kalema-Zikusoka, G., Malta, J., Soler, A., Blanco, E., Parkhouse, R.M.E., and Leitao, A. (2009). Recombinant Antigen Targets for Serodiagnosis of African Swine Fever. Clin Vaccine Immunol 16, 10121020. • Gordo, I., Gomes, M.G.M., Reis, D.G., and Campos, P.R.A. (2009). Genetic Diversity in the SIR Model of Pathogen Evolution. PLoS ONE 4, e4876. • Jurberg, A., Gonçalves, T., Costa, T., de Mattos, A., Pascarelli, B., de Manso, P., Ribeiro-Alves, M., Pelajo-Machado, M., Peralta, J., Coelho, P., et al. (2009). The embryonic development of Schistosoma mansoni eggs: proposal for a new staging system. Development Genes and Evolution 219, 219-234. • Kuriyama, R., Bettencourt-Dias, M., Hoffmann, I., Arnold, M., and Sandvig, L. (2009). {gamma}Tubulin-containing abnormal centrioles are induced by insufficient Plk4 in human HCT116 colorectal cancer cells. J Cell Sci 122, 20142023. • Lince-Faria, M., Maffini, S., Orr, B., Ding, Y., Florindo, C,., Sunkel, C.E., Tavares, A., Johansen, J., Johansen, K.M., and Maiato, H. (2009). Spatiotemporal control of mitosis by the conserved spindle matrix protein Megator. J Cell Biol 184, 647-657. • Malta-Vacas, J., Nolasco, S., Monteiro, C., Soares, H., and Brito, M. (2009). Translation termination and protein folding pathway genes are not correlated in gastric cancer. Clin Chem Lab Med 47, 427-431. • Mantilla-Beniers, N.B., and Gomes, M.G.M. Mycobacterial ecology as a modulator of tuberculosis vaccine success. Theoretical

Population Biology 75, 142-152. • Marinho, C.R.F., Neres, R., Epiphanio, S., Gonçalves, L.A., Catarino, M.B.o., and Penha-Gonçalves, C. (2009). Recrudescent Plasmodium berghei from Pregnant Mice Displays Enhanced Binding to the Placenta and Induces Protection in Multigravida. PLoS ONE 4, e5630. • Moosajee, M., Tulloch, M., Baron, R.A., Gregory-Evans, C.Y., Pereira-Leal, J.B., and Seabra, M.C. (2009). Single choroideremia Gene in Nonmammalian Vertebrates Explains Early Embryonic Lethality of the Zebrafish Model of Choroideremia. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 50, 3009-3016. • Moraes-Fontes, M.F., Rebelo, M., Íris, C., Zelenay, S., Bergman, M.-L., Coutinho, A., and Demengeot, J. Steroid treatments in mice do not alter the number and function of regulatory T cells, but amplify cyclophosphamide-induced autoimmune disease. Journal of Autoimmunity In Press, Corrected Proof. • Nascimento, R., Dias, J., and Parkhouse, R. (2009). The conserved UL24 family of human alpha, beta and gamma herpesviruses induces cell cycle arrest and inactivation of the cyclinB/ cdc2 complex. Archives of Virology 154, 11431149. • Rasteiro, R., and Chikhi, L. (2009). Revisiting the peopling of Japan: an admixture perspective. J Hum Genet 54, 349-354. • Rodrigues, L., Filipe, J., Seldon, M.P., Fonseca, L., Anrather, J., Soares, M.P., and Simas, J.P. (2009a). Termination of NF-[kappa] B activity through a gammaherpesvirus protein that assembles an EC5S ubiquitin-ligase. EMBO J 28, 1283-1295. • Rodrigues, P., Margheri, A., Rebelo, C., and Gomes, M.G.M. (2009b). Heterogeneity in susceptibility to infection can explain high reinfection rates. Journal of Theoretical Biology 259, 280-290. • Rog, O., Miller, K.M., Ferreira, M.G., and Cooper, J.P. (2009). Sumoylation of RecQ Helicase Controls the Fate of Dysfunctional Telomeres. Molecular Cell 33, 559-569. • Seixas E, Moura Nunes JF, Matos I, Coutinho A (2009). The interaction between DC and Plasmodium berghei/chabaudi -infected erythrocytes in mice involves direct cell-to-cell contact, internalization and TLR. European Journal of Immunology 39, 1850-1863.


The IGC Scientific Advisory Board: A team of Excellence by António Coutinho The profile and shape of the IGC as it is today, the quality of its human and scientific environment, the atmosphere and attitude that are so widely appreciated, all owe much to the advice and support, to the strategic and operational views of our Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). I am certain that the IGC would look very different, had we had another Board. And I do not mean the specific Board recommendations only: the principles we cherish together - that are no other than the human values of science and the value of science for humankind, are as well an emanation of the Board, the example that we all take from the individual style and behaviors of the Board members and of their collective views on how science should be done. The IGC’s SAB has regularly met since 1999, at least once a year. All along these years, however, all Board members, the Chairman in particular, have been systematically available for advice on the issues I submit to them, which happens rather often. The Board advises the Director of the Institute on matters such as scientific strategies, recruitment of group leaders, general structure and operation. Thus far, all group leaders who

The SAB and the President of the Republic, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, during Sydney Brenner’s condecoration in May

were installed at the IGC were approved by the SAB, almost always after listening to a seminar by the candidate. The SAB also advises the Board of Administration of the Gulbenkian Foundation on general policy, financing and evaluation, as well as on matters such as international presence, institutional agreements and the choice of the direction team. In addition, it is clear that much of the IGC’s reputation and image in the world have been constructed on the basis of our Board member’s testimony. Many of the Board members, again starting by the Chairman, have generously engaged in other activities at the Gulbenkian Foundation, from participating in conferences and committees, to publishing the Portuguese translation of their books, to organizing conferences or advising on science exhibits. As it is customary, the Board has undergone some renewal over the years, often for personal reasons of the members, but also in line with the evolving scientific profile of the Institute. Yet, we have the privilege of counting in the SAB with several members who have helped the IGC from the start of the 1998 restructuring. This is most useful, as they embody the memory of the institutional trajectory, and may thus compare conditions and outcomes, conclude on the most favorable local conditions. As Biology reached maturity as a branch of science, as outstanding scientists each board member has a valid opinion on the scientific endeavor, whatever the topic of discussion. Yet, we have had the advantage of counting on the specific expert advice of Board members in each of the various areas of the IGC’s research activity. It is a great privilege for all of us at the IGC to count on the advice and constructive criticism, on the friendship I dare say, of such outstanding scientists. The SAB meetings are the highest moment of the year, for me in particular, but for all others here as well, I am certain. All current and past SAB members may be sure of our deepest recognition and gratitude.

President of the Republic distinguishes Sydney Brenner with highest order for science/ culture in Portugal

colleagues who have collaborated with the Institute over the years, attended the ceremony. The President of the Republic was given a tour of the IGC facilities by Emílio Rui Vilar, President of the Board of Administration of the Gulbenkian Foundation, Diogo de Lucena, Board Member of the Gulbenkian Foundation and by António Coutinho, Director of the IGC.

by Ana Godinho The President of the Republic, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, visited the IGC to distinguish Sydney Brenner, 2002 Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology laureate and President of the IGC Scientific Advisory Board, with the highest order for science/ culture in Portugal – the Grã Cruz do Infante D. Henrique. This distinction comes as an acknowledgement of the enormous contribution by Sydney Brenner to the internationalization of Portuguese science, and to his role as one of the most prominent thinkers of our time. The ambassadors to South Africa and the United Kingdom, Presidents and members of the boards of administration of the Gulbenkian and the Champalimaud Foundations, as well as several authorities and

President of the Republic, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, awarded Sydney Brenner with the highest order for science/culture in Portugal, named after the Prince Henry the Navigator. Quinta Grande| Summer 2009| 5


“Solidários até à Medula”, “OptimusAlive!Oeiras09” and “Mundo Mix”

IGC in the organization of important fundraising initiatives in Portugal by Maria João Leão “SOLIDÁRIOS ATÉ À MEDULA” A major fundraising event on Portuguese television, “SOLIDÁRIOS ATÉ À MEDULA”, was developed by Associação Portuguesa Contra a Leucemia (APCL), a Portuguese Leukaemia Association, with Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC) and the public TV channel, RTP1. The important aims of this initiative were to raise awareness and private funds in Portugal, for treatment and scientific research into blood cancers. This 12 hours television Marathon, that took place on 2nd July, included the APCL fundraising concert and other musical varieties, a call centre for donations, an auction, and testimonials from celebrities, scientists, clinicians and patients. “Mexa-se na Marginal”, an event organized by Oeiras Council and the football game “Sporting Solidário”, between scientists and celebrities, were other initiatives that supported the first edition of “Solidários até à Medula”. The success and sustainability of this project will require other society initiatives from North to South of Portugal and the support of the IGC scientific community and that of other Portuguese scientific institutions. For the second year Music, Art and Science together at “OPTIMUSALIVE!OEIRAS09” Science, Music and Art came together again during OptimusAlive!Oeiras09. This partnership was established between IGC and Everything is New, promoter of this festival, aiming to bring Science closer to the Portuguese society and to raise funds for scientific research. During the three days of this major music and art event the main activities at the IGC corner were “Speed dating” with scientists, DNA extraction from strawberries and the Champimóvel from Fundação Champalimaud, which took the visitors through an interactive, three-dimensional trip inside the human body. Around 70 IGC volunteers made these activities possible for more than 1000 young people that visited the IGC space during the three days of this event.

Some of the IGC´s volunteers at OptimusAlive!Oeiras09

Everything is New will sponsor, as last year, research fellowships in Biodiversity for young scientists who will have the opportunity to start their scientific careers in an essential area for the sustainability of our Planet. This unique partnership established between a Research Institute in Biomedicine and a music events promoter is a strong example of how the private sector and Society in general may contribute to the progress of research and therefore to the future and well-being of all. Science at “MUNDO MIX” The IGC, together with “Associação viver a Ciência” (VaC) was present at Mundo Mix, a three-day event of culture, fashion, music, art and multimedia at Castelo de São Jorge in Lisbon. Our goal was to take Science, the IGC and VaC to unexpected venues reaching non self-selected publics. Visitors could participate in different science related activities and also to see, and taste, ice creams frozen in liquid nitrogen, agar spaghetti and a molecular cocktail, made by “Cooking Lab”, a company set up by scientists. Through the purchasing of the IGC “Science” Calendar and postcards from the VaC exhibition “Laboratório de Imagens”, the public could contribute for scientific research in Portugal.

Work by IGC Scientists is recognized with several awards Over the years IGC scientists have received several awards for their research. This year, the trend continues. Vasco Barreto, Principal Investigator of the Epigenetics and Soma group saw two of his research projects awarded two important prizes: the “Support for research into oncology-haematology” award, by the ‘Associação Portuguesa Contra a Leucemia’ (APCL), and the “Terry Fox Award” for research into Oncology, by the Portuguese Cancer League and Canadian Embassy. Interestingly, both these prizes derive from fundraising initiatives carried out by the two funding organizations. Francisca Moraes-Fontes was awarded the 2009 NEDAI Prize in AutoQuinta Grande| Summer 2009| 6

Immunity; and Lars Jansen was awarded an EMBO Installation Grant and subsequent entrance into the prestigious network of some of Europe’s best young group leaders. Vasco Barreto’s winning projects concern the study of the enzyme Activation- Induced Cytidine Deaminase (AID) - crucial for the adaptive immune response of vertebrates, and implicated in cancer. The projects aim to, on the one hand, compare the regulation of AID and its function in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL) patients and in healthy individuals, in collaboration with the Haematology Unit of the ‘Instituto Português de Oncologia’ (project supported with 40,000 Euro by APCL), and, on the other, generate

by Sílvia Castro mouse models of AID over-activation which may be used to analyse its oncogenic potential and establish new models to study B Cell lymphomas and other neoplasias (project awarded with 15,000 Euro by Terry Fox). Altogether, the two prizes ensure 55,000 Euro which, according to Vasco, “although not enough to cover all the expenses needed for the accomplishment of both projects, will be crucial in launching our research“. The Portuguese Society of Internal Medicine distinguished work by Maria Francisca Moraes-Fontes, a PhD student at the IGC, with 10,000 Euro. In the winning study, a team of researchers, led by Jocelyne Demengeot, also (cont.)


“This will make you depressed”

Lynn Margulis on delusion, elimination, and the inevitable end of the human species

by Barbara Vreede and Filipe Cadete

Be prepared to let go of your microscope, and blow up the scales of your perception. The grand dame of the theory of endosymbiosis and the Gaia-hypothesis, Lynn Margulis, who visited the Fundação Gulbenkian in April to give one of the lectures in the Darwin series, looks at life from an entirely different perspective. She uses a billion year unit with as much ease as we measure our days in hours, and takes us so far out into space that we can look at our planet as a whole: “It is Gaia.” The Gaia-hypothesis, the brainchild of Lovelock and further developed by himself and Margulis in the 1960s, states that life is a planetary phenomenon. It considers the earth as one living system, and uses the chemical imbalances that are its consequences as a footprint of life. “The Gaia hypothesis is very generative one: it leads to all kinds of other ideas. You subtract life on this planet, and when you look at what is left you know what to look for in other places.” Margulis paints a panorama that shows the beauty of the living earth, and the inevitable changes within. Interestingly, this is where a divergence between her and Lovelock arises. Where he sees the changing environment that will drastically affect life on earth, and urges us to act, she perceives those changes to be unavoidable. “Just like all individuals die, species extinguish. There is not a single species alive today that is from the Cambrian, which is only 542 million years ago. Species duration is even smaller for mammalians. The question is not if we will extinguish, it is how we will extinguish. So yes, if your own death makes you depressed, then this will make you depressed.” These are the consequences of the celebrated theory of Charles Darwin: life evolves, natural selection removes, no matter what the scale. “Termination for the human species is incontrovertible, the question is what the nature of it is. People don’t see our wars as a phenomenon of elimination. People talk about politics as if it were the leaders’ will, but it is just part of the elimination process that has always been with people when the population got large. (cont.) Principal Investigator at the IGC, explores the role of corticosteroids on the immune system, specifically on the function of the T regulatory cells (Treg). These cells are implicated in onset and progression of auto-immune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus erythematosus. Corticosteroids are widely used in treating these diseases but little was known about their effect on the Treg population of cells. The IGC researchers provide the first evidence that, at therapeutical doses, corticosteroids do not affect Treg cells and, consequently, do not potentiate the autoimmune reaction.

From the time we’ve had cities, there have been militaries and sieges and cannibalism, and all those wonderful traits, because these things are choices of survival or not.” She predicts that our ever-growing population will only cause people to get worse to each other. In addition, our nature as primates does not bode well for the human future. “It is very likely that we as a species will perish without leaving any descendents. Primates, in fact, are not very good at leaving descendents, and it is anthropocentrism that has kept us alive.” She explains: “In his book ‘The Spirit in the Gene’, Reg Morrison asks the question why there are six thousand million human individuals, and only six thousand chimps, even though 99.9% of the DNA is identical. His answer has to do with our behaviour. The behaviour of putative invincibility of young men, the idea that you can do anything, conquer everything, and inseminate anybody, is rampant and it leads to delusion, and delusion leads to more Lynn Margulis; Photo by Barbara Vreede people.” “Furthermore, organisms usually stay within their environment and depend on it. If you want to kill the organism, you change the environment. But people, they go to the Antarctic and try to make tropical Africa out of it, and they succeed. They put the heat on, put trees in the living room, and the Antarctic looks tropical. This property of vastly modifying the environment for the life of the animal is extremely unusual, and if you ask what people do what other primates don’t, it is that.” But despite believing that humans are responsible for their changing environment, she is sceptical. “We have known for fifty years that the temperatures are rising, and the curves are clear, but the idea that we can do something about it, that is where I part company [with Lovelock]. This man is the most mischievous, original scientist with whom I have ever worked, and he has never been way off. But I don’t share his political opinions. He thinks much more can be done, and this is his opinion, so you have to at least pay attention to it. But I don’t share it.”

After a prestigious 2007 EMBO installation grant for Mónica Dias, Principal Investigator of Cell Cycle Regulation group, this year it was Lars Jansen’s turn, for research into the assembly of the centromere, a key structure in powering and controlling chromosome segregation and accurate cell division. Lars Jansen moved from California to the IGC last year to head the Epigenetic Mechanisms group, and was thrilled with the EMBO installation grant of 50,000 euro per year, for a maximum of five years. According to Lars, the award “will be a huge boost to our research! Apart from the direct monetary

benefit this grant is a great recognition of the relevance of our work and the science we propose in this project. Moreover, entry into the EMBO Young Investigator Programme allows me to fully integrate our emerging laboratory in the larger European scientific community. The IGC has been extremely supportive of our efforts and remains critically important in creating the conditions that help our laboratory and work to come to full fruition.”

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Awardees of 2008 research fellowships in Biodiversity for young scientists “OptimusAlive!Oeiras08-IGC”

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The Newsletter of the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência - issue 4  

The Newsletter of the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência ,‘Quinta Grande’, aims to be a forum to communicate events and any news which may be o...

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