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Olivier Voinnet awarded 2009 EMBO Gold Medal
Date:4/22/2009

e managed to develop tools and model systems that ultimately were instrumental to ascertain the first biological role of RNA silencing, that is, antiviral defense."

Following the discovery of microRNA and short interfering RNA in a wide range of different organisms, one key question that has kept Voinnet busy over the past years is "how do viruses and microbes deal with those endogenous RNA molecules?" His work helped establish that pathogens commonly interfere with, or even hijack the gene silencing pathways of their hosts.

His most recent achievement was the discovery that microRNAs also control antibacterial defense by targeting genes involved in hormone responses and that, in response, bacteria produce suppressors of the miRNA pathway. "Yet another illustration of the never ending molecular arms race between hosts and parasites."

"Olivier Voinnet's discoveries represent true breakthroughs in his field. He has written several illuminating reviews recently, and participated as a speaker in many prestigious meetings. I consider him to be one of the most talented, original and effective young scientists," writes Witold Filipowicz from the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Basel, Switzerland, in his nomination letter.

Since establishing his own lab in Strasbourg in 2002, Voinnet has built up a team of 25 scientists and expanded his research to the mammalian system. "We are very interested in finding out where and how the silencing by microRNAs works in human cells," says the gold medalist. "We are helped in this endeavor by our parallel approaches in plant model systems, which are highly amenable to forward and reverse genetics." Another aspect he is particularly interested in at the moment is the impact of the silencing mechanism on the evolution of organisms and of their genomes, including those of viruses.

In 2004, Voinnet was selected to benefit from the highly competitive EMBO Young Investigator
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Contact: Suzanne Beveridge
beveridge@embo.org
49-622-188-91108
European Molecular Biology Organization
Source:Eurekalert

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