We are a research unit jointly managed by the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, the CNRS and the Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, as well has being affiliated to INRA. We are interested in functional genomics, that is to say in the way living organisms function, develop and evolve, and how their genomes control these fundamental processes and allow them to adapt to their environment. The IGFL’s research also focuses on what happens when these processes go wrong; for example, in humans that may lead to congenital abnormalities, metabolic disorders or cancer. We are also interested in agronomy and more specifically in understanding how domestic species have adapted to the environment, and environmental pollutants affect health.
The IGFL’s originality comes from bringing together, under one roof, leading scientists from different backgrounds. The IGFL’s brand new building houses molecular biologists, embryologists, endrocrinologists, bioinformatics specialists, evolutionary scientists, cell biologists, palaeontologists, physiologists and genome specialists. This makes for a very fertile environment where these varied approaches can come together and cross-fertilize. Our bet is that this environment will foster new collaborations and lead to new integrative approaches. We are convinced that a multi-disciplinary approach will lead to an improved understanding of ‘life’, and our aim is to contribute to this conceptual and technological revolution.
The IGFL focuses primarily on fundamental research. Nevertheless, we are also committed to translational opportunities and have numerous links with private sector companies who are interested in our findings. A number of start-up biotechnology firms have been derived from IGFL research.
The IGFL consists of independent research teams covering a wide range of research, described here.
Evolutionary sciences, development and physiology: the IGFL’s ‘tripod’ research strategy
The IGFL’s research in functional genomics aims to elucidate how the whole genome controls the development, function and evolution of animal species.
Functional genomics involves taking two complementary research strategies: (i) an experimental genetics approach, which consists in engineering the genome of model organisms and studying the impact of these modifications on the development and homeostasis of the organism, (ii) a historical and comparative approach, which relies on evolutionary theory and to formulate hypotheses regarding both the ancestral and actual functions of genes.
Both these approaches are essential to understanding how organisms, the ‘products’ of evolution, ‘function’ and how changes in their genomes translate to morphological and / or physiological changes.
Functional biology is a science of proximate causes (definition of "ultimate/proximate cause"). In contrast, evolutionary biology is mainly a science of ultimate causes, studying changes in species and populations, the origin of the adaptations species display, and the mechanisms at the origin of biodiversity.
Historically both these approaches have been studied with little interaction between scientific disciplines in France, or in the wider context for that matter. A factor explaining this was that scientists lead their studies in their respective laboratories, with little call to interact or be familiar with the others’ research.
Within the IGFL, the teams are interested by both ultimate and proximate causes of biological processes. Under the same roof, the teams benefit from prime conditions to jointly undertake these two approaches, confront their ideas and foster scientific collaborations.
At present, this research strategy is more widely recognised as fruitful, and it underlies the profound renewal of methodologies and modes of thinking observed in Biology today. Relatively recent access to a tremendous quantity of functional and historical information stored in genomes, and the capacity of (affordably) undertaking massive the current conceptual and technological revolution, which is certain to bring biology to new and unsuspected horizons.
- Evolutionary biology. This approach allows us to decipher the ultimate cause of biological phenomena or processes, which we view as essential. A large continuum of evolutionary sciences is relevant to us, such as molecular evolution, zoology, palaeontology, comparative genomics, and Evo/Devo. We are interested both in the processes governing evolutionary changes as well as in the patterns of evolutionary history, including the succession of living forms through time. It is impossible to understand evolutionary mechanisms without having good description of the evolutionary history of living forms. Thus we are studying both well-known model organisms, but also (wild) living and fossil species that some teams collect in the field.
- Developmental biology. Developmental biology is central to the IGFL’s interests as it links the evolutionary biology and physiology approaches performed in the institute. The IGFL’s research on developmental biology focuses on latter developmental stages such as organogenesis, postembryonic development and regeneration – important areas that have been somewhat neglected in the past. The IGFL teams use several developmental biology animal models such as drosophila, mouse and zebra fish (to state just a few common examples).
- Integrative physiology. For the IGFL this aspect covers the genome-wide and experimental approaches that aim at understanding adult homeostasis and its dysfunctions. Groups performing this type of research are interested in major biological actors (e.g. hormones) or by the role of specific cell types, and elucidate how they contribute to an organism’s function via experimental approaches and genome-wide studies. Analyses are carried out at different levels, integrating the tissue, cell and molecular scales