Lab history

A tought for Michel Solignac

LEGS background

Creation

The origins of the laboratory

In 1946, the CNRS was looking for a site to set up research laboratories in a quiet setting not too far from Paris and with practical transport access. Gif seemed like the ideal place. Frédéric Joliot-Curie, then at the head of the new CNRS, was friends with Jacques Noetzlin, a physician and the owner of a château, but who was looking to sell his estate. Both had been taught physics by Jean Perrin. On 3 June 1946, the CNRS bought the château and the 67-hectare estate. The first three laboratories set up on the campus were linked to the Life Sciences and were exclusively dedicated to genetics, a discipline that had not yet found a place in universities at the time.

The first laboratory to start work in Gif was headed by Philippe L’Héritier, in 1951. It was a formal genetics laboratory studying the heritability of sensitivity to CO² in drosophila as a result of a virus. The laboratory was soon followed by Georges Teissier’s, our own laboratory, originally known as the “Evolutive Genetics and Biometrics Laboratory”, and focused on population genetics. However, G. Teissier’s laboratory remained in an embryonic state until Charles Bocquet took charge over in 1966. Bocquet broadened the unit’s contribution to the study of natural populations and speciation, using two model organisms, the Jaera, a crustacean, and drosophila. The approach of the founding fathers was continued under the leadership of Jean David (1980-1992), with the introduction of new elements for study (bees, drosophila parasites: transposable elements or parasitoid insects), along with some new themes. Jean-Marc Jallon’s team was set up at the laboratory in 1985 to work on cuticular hydrocarbons and sexual recognition in drosophila, before they joined the University of Orsay in 1989. Since then, the development of new techniques has helped to forge a more molecular approach to the different themes. Thanks to the drosophila scientists of the second and even the third generation after G. Teissier and C. Bocquet, our laboratory, from 1993 known as “Populations, Genetics, Evolution” and led by Marie-Louise Cariou (1993-2005), has remained in the forefront of research into evolution. With the aim of fostering an active exchange of skills, the laboratory welcomed an INRA team from 1993 to 1998 (Jean-Yves Rasplus), before it moved to Montpellier. In 2001, this sense of coherence with applied research was shown to the full when the IRD unit (UR072) was set up by Jean-François Silvain in the same laboratory. The unit works closely with countries in the South (Africa and Latin America) on plant-herbivore-parasitoid relations in tropical habitats. The team studies interactions between species in nature, considerably reinforcing the laboratory’s commitment to understanding adaptation mechanisms and the differentiation of populations, especially in Africa.

The laboratory’s dynamism is shown both in the evolution of its themes and of its techniques. For some ten years now, the laboratory has encouraged young researchers to join the team, helping to enrich and broaden its range of skills. In 2002, an Evo-Devo team (Didier Casane, ATIPE and ATIPE plus CNRS) arrived, using the zebrafish and the small-spotted catshark as its main models, and studying the molecular and functional evolution of multigenic families. More recently, research linked to the cognitive capacities of drosophila has been developed thanks to the recruitment of Frédéric Méry (2005, ATIPE, ERC young researcher). In 2006, the laboratory was renamed the “Evolution, Genomes and Speciation laboratory” and was headed by Pierre Capy, a Professor at the University of Orsay. The laboratory’s contract was renewed for four years in 2010, and it began to develop aspects of theoretical biology, simulation and modelling thanks to the recruitment of Arnaud Le Rouzic (2009, European Reintegration Grant).

On 1 January 2015, LEGS was replaced by the Evolution, Genomes, Behaviour and Ecology laboratory (EGCE), led by Catherine Montchamp-Moreau. Two team managers arrived: Nicolas Pollet developed the comparative and evolutive study of the complexity of the genome structure in amphibians, while Frédéric Marion-Poll looked at the role of chemical signals from food in the adaptation of insects to their environment. A. Michel-Salzat (EC Paris Diderot) joined D. Casane’s team.

On 1 January 2020, a new management team arrived at EGCE: Laure Kaiser-Arnauld was elected director and Jean-Christophe Sandoz deputy director. New members joined the laboratory: Héloïse Bastide (EC), Amir Yassin (CR CNRS) and Fabrice Requier (CR IRD), who studied the resilience of pollinators and the positive role of pollination in the context of global changes. The engineering and technical team was expanded, with Virginie Larcher (AI CNRS) and Laurent Legendre (IE CNRS) joining the laboratory. In all, EGCE now has 48 permanent members.

Structural evolution of the laboratory

Ties with the IRD team were strengthened with the merger of two units on 1 January 2015.  From a scientific viewpoint, real interactions and collaboration resulted, as can be seen in shared projects, with publications and organisation of symposia. They developed shared themes, such as the study of biological invasions, where conceptual breakthroughs have already been made. Part of the unit is based in Gif, but premises overseas (Kenya, Cameroon and Ecuador) provide laboratory researchers with field access in Africa and South America.

Since 2006, 14 researchers and lecturer-researchers have joined the unit after recruitment or for specific assignments: C. Wicker (CNRS), J. Rouault (CNRS), J. Filée (CNRS), J.C. Sandoz (CNRS), F. Méry (CNRS), A. Le Rouzic (CNRS), M. Harry (Professor at Paris Sud 11), L. Kaiser (CNRS), P.A. Calatayud, (IRD), B. Le Ru (IRD), O. Dangles (IRD), R. Pasquet (IRD), N. Pollet (CNRS), F. Marion-Poll (Professor at AgroParisTech), with a total of 19 researchers (CNRS, IRD) and 12 lecturer-researchers on 1/1/2015. In February 2020, there were 19 researchers (CNRS+IRD) and 11 lecturer-researchers with the arrival of H. Bastide, A. Michel-Salzat, F. Requier and A. Yassin.

Closer links with the university

A closer association with universities has developed over the past few years, especially with Paris-Sud University in Orsay, which has come under our administrative supervision through the creation of joint research units. This is shown in the increase in the number of lecturer-researchers (12) in the unit. The lecturer-researchers work with three universities (Paris-Saclay, University of Paris, Versailles-Saint Quentin). The laboratory’s lecturer-researchers have more and more responsibilities in the different university bodies, especially in doctoral schools and, in return, researchers devote more time to teaching.

The efforts to provide a structure to the community of “evolutionists” on the GIF and Orsay campuses took shape with the setting up of the Diversity Ecology and Evolution of Life Institute (IDEEV), a project in which the unit was a driving force. The IDEEV, created on 1 January 2010, brings together the three founding laboratories and different teams belonging to laboratories on the two campuses and the INRA.