EMBO Workshop “Physics of living systems: From molecules to tissues”


From June 7-10, 2021, the Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life (PoL) is hosting a 4-day EMBO workshop to discuss recent advances in the field of biological physics, focusing on emergent principles that govern the dynamic organization of living matter.

Among other physicists, Prof. Guillaume Salbreux is in charge of the scientific organization.

The loss of the sense of smell explained by Ratatouille and Ivan Rodriguez


Loss of smell, also called anosmia, is identified as one of the symptoms of Covid-19. It is estimated that 8 or 9 out of 10 Covid-19 patients suffer from smell disorders. But what is going on in our brain that makes our nose unable to differentiate the smell of a good dish from that of a garbage scent? The details of Ivan Rodriguez, professor at the laboratory of neurogenetics.

Read the article (in French) online and watch the video.

How diet controls RNA maturation


Particularly sensitive to chemical modifications, messenger RNAs (mRNAs) are molecules responsible for transmitting the information encoded in our genome, allowing for the synthesis of proteins, which are necessary for the functioning of our cells. Two teams from the department of molecular biology, Ramesh Pillai and Florian Steiner ‘s labs, have focused on a specific type of chemical modification – called methylation – of mRNA molecules in the small worm Caenorhabditis elegans. They found that methylation on a particular sequence of an mRNA leads to its degradation and that this control mechanism depends on the worm’s diet.

The article was published in Cell, on April 29th 2021.

Check the UNIGE press release.

3D numerical simulations of the ocellated lizard skin colour patterning


The last study from the Milinkovitch’s lab uses reaction-diffusion (RD) numerical simulations in three-dimension on realistic lizard skin geometries and demonstrates that skin thickness variation on its own is sufficient to cause scale-by-scale coloration and cellular automaton dynamics during RD patterning. In addition, Anamarija Fofonjka and Michel Milinkovitch show that this phenomenon is robust to RD model variation. Finally, they show that animal growth affects the scale-colour flipping dynamics.

The article was published in the journal Nature Communications, on April 23rd 2021.

How the fly selects its reproductive male


Even a well-characterized genome, such as that of the Drosophila the so-called fruit fly, still holds surprises. Researchers from the Department of Genetics and Evolution, in collaboration with Cornell University (USA) and the University of Groningen (Netherlands), have discovered an RNA coding for a micro-peptide – a very small protein – that plays a crucial role in the competition between spermatozoa from different males with which the female mates. In addition to shedding new light on this biological mechanism, Robert Maeda and collaborators’ work highlights the importance of small peptides, a class of proteins that is now emerging as a key player in complex biological processes.

The article was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), on April 5th 2021.

UNIGE Press release

Grigorii Timin wins the Olympus Image of the Year Award 2020 for Europe


The company Olympus, a well-known provider of microscopes, organised the 2nd Global Image of the Year Light Microscopy Award to celebrate the very best in life science imaging worldwide.

We are very excited that an outstanding image recorded by Grigorii Timin, PhD student in the laboratory of Prof. Michel Milinkovitch has been selected as the best image for Europe.

The Milinkovitch laboratory investigates the development of skin scales in reptiles and Grigorii’s stunning image shows collagen fibers and dermal pigment cells in embryonic skin scales of the African house snake.

Full Resolution Download (37 MB)



Scaled, armoured or naked: how does the skin of fish evolve?


Usually scaled, the skin of fish can also be naked or made up of bony plates that form an armour, sometimes even covered with teeth. But how has this skin evolved over the ages? To answer this question, Alexandre Lemopoulos and Juan Montoya have reconstructed the evolution of the protective skin structures in fish, going back to the common ancestor of ray-finned fish, more than 420 million years ago. They found that only fish that had lost their scales were able to develop a bony armour, and that the protective state of their skin influenced their choice of open water or sea floor habitats. This study, published in the journal Evolution Letters, provides a new explanation for the incredible diversity of this lineage of fish, which includes more than 25,000 species.

The article was published in Evolution letters on March 23rd, 2021.

Press release

This study is also covered by other media :

La perte d’écailles chez certains poissons, une histoire d’habitat Sciences et Avenir, 30.03.2021

The skeleton of the malaria parasite reveals its secrets


Plasmodium is the parasite causing malaria, one of the deadliest parasitic diseases. The parasite requires two hosts —the Anopheles mosquito and the human— to complete its life cycle and goes through different forms at each stage of its life cycle. Transitioning from one form to the next involves a massive reorganisation of the cytoskeleton. Paul Guichard and Virginie Hamel’s group, in collaboration with Mathieu Brochet‘s group from the CMU, has shed new light on the cytoskeleton organisation in Plasmodium. Their research details the organisation of the parasite’s skeleton at an unprecedented scale, adapting a recently developed technique called expansion microscopy. Cells are “inflated” before imaging, providing access to more structural details, at a nanometric scale. The study identifies traces of an organelle called “conoid”, which was thought to be lacking in this species despite its crucial role in host invasion of closely related parasites.

The article was published in PLOS Biology on March 11, 2021.

Press release

This study is also covered by other media :

Du nouveau sur le parasite de la malaria RTS La 1ère / Journal 10h / CQFD*, 12.03.2021