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Chemistry of Biological Processes: An Introduction

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Marc Fontecave

Introducing Marc Fontecave

Pierre Corvol
Traduction de Liz Libbrecht

Texte intégral

1Dear colleague,
Dear Marc Fontecave,

2The cell is a chemical plant capable of permanently producing complex molecules using basic reagents found in its environment. One can only marvel at its performance, its selectivity and its outcome. We do indeed marvel, but we also wish to understand and, if possible, reproduce the mechanisms involved.

3A chemist by training, you have taken a particular interest in the crucial role played by metals in the processes of cellular life. The structure or functioning of many proteins depends on the presence of metals – iron, cobalt, sulphur, copper, zinc – which impart them with unique properties. This is the mineral part of life.

4You are a chemist who works in biology laboratories, a rare occurrence. At the René-Descartes University, under Daniel Mansuy supervision, you worked on metalloporphyrins; at the Karolinska Institute, you discovered a new ribonucleotide reductase, an iron enzyme responsible for the synthesis of DNA in anaerobic organisms. The same chemistry is at play in multiple organisms and was probably instrumental in the shift from the RNA world (at the origin of life) to the DNA world (which is ours today).

5In Grenoble, where you have been a professor at the Joseph-Fourier University since 1989 and head of the CEA’s Institute for Research on Life Sciences and Technologies, you have successfully developed several research thrusts. I will mention only one, in line with your discoveries around ribonuclotide reductase: you discovered that a great number of other enzymes act in a similar way in multiple organisms. They require the presence of sulphur and iron and are involved in reactions that are crucial to cellular life, such as damaged DNA repair, the synthesis of antibiotics and the energy metabolism.

6Your work has led to the invention of new selective catalysts that mimic natural proteins. They draw inspiration from biology and their applications relate to fields ranging from health (DNA repair/cleavage), to energy (hydrogen photo-production), to the biodegradation of toxic products in the environment.

7The interpenetration of chemistry with biology requires a command of two forms of knowledge and several languages: that of the chemist with chemists, that of the biologist with biologists, and that of the bio-informatician. You have chosen to name your chair Chemistry of Biological Processes. Now that is interdisciplinarity – a feat of scientific skill, and an extraordinary achievement!

8We are pleased to welcome you to the Collège de France and to benefit from your teaching today and tomorrow from the interactions that will develop between your laboratory at the Collège de France and those of neighbouring biology teams.

© Collège de France, 2014

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