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Aurélie is Associate Professor of Organism Biology and Leader of the
SPICI team in the Evo Eco Paleo unit (CNRS UMR8198) at the
University of Lille in France.
Her research activities rely on comparative immunology i.e. the
description and comparison of the processes used by different living
organisms to recognize, kill and/or tolerate microbes. More
particularly, she has been working on one of the key components of
the immune defense, i.e. antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), since her
Ph.D. These are small antibiotic molecules naturally produced by
bacteria, plants, fungi and animals. She is interested in discovering
new ones and understanding their immunological functions in the
animals that produce them. These are extremely effective chemical
warfare systems to kill bacterial pathogens but also to shape the
colonizing bacterial symbionts while coping with specific
environmental challenges.
Concerning biological models, the main part of her studies focus on annelids because they occupy a
very large range of habitats (marine, terrestrial…) including very extreme ones where most animals
cannot survive, (hydrothermal vents, coastal mud anoxic and enriched in sulfides, highly polluted
habitats…) they can be free or parasites and probably as a consequence, appear to be a source of a
very large variety of novel AMPs. She identified seven new AMPs in annelids. She demonstrated their
function in the defense against pathogenic bacteria in the blood, the digestive tract and interestingly also
in the central nervous system where they are produced by neurons and promote the regenerative
process of the injured nerve cord. More recently, she has been working on the adaptive evolution of
AMP genes and on understanding how AMPs are selected to allow ringed worms to establish symbiosis
that are vital to thrive in extreme habitats.
AMP studies give rise to both “fundamental” and “applied” interests. Indeed, because of their mode of
action and their spectrum of activities and their small size, some AMPs constitute promising candidates
for the development of new antibiotics. For these reasons, three of the AMPs newly found by Aurélie
were patented by the CNRS or the University of Lille for their potential application in medicine. Together
with Daniela Zeppilli, they have recently obtained a grant support to look for and to understand the role
of AMPs in extremophile nematodes, another types of worms !
To know more about Aurélie’s work, visit her websites and or even better, talk to her at the Meioscool!!