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Lab Times



University mega-merger in France

Straight to the Top

Bigger is better, as they say. Or

plus grand

c’est, mieux c’est

, as the French would per-

haps phrase it. Earlier this year, a new su-

per-university was created in the south of

Paris. If the French government’s plan pans

out, uniting two universities, ten “grandes

écoles” and seven research organisations

(among them CNRS, INRA and AgroParis-

Tech) under one roof, or onto one campus

named Paris-Saclay, should secure them a

place in academic heaven and at the top

end of global university rankings. “To ad-

dress ever-increasing global competition

in teaching, research and innovation, the

Founding Members of Université Paris-Sa-

clay have decided to combine their resourc-

es by 2014 and create a joint teaching and

research project of the highest international

level,” the university’s press kit states.

Within the next decade, Paris-Saclay

wants to become serious competition for

Harvard, MIT, Oxford and Cambridge. “My

goal is to be a top 10 institution” in the

world, Dominique Vernay, current presi-

dent of the Paris-Saclay campus, revealed


BBC News

. Within Europe, he aims for a

sunny spot among the top three. To make

it work, the French government supported

the project with an initial funding of 7.5 bil-

lion euros, for amongst others the construc-

tion of buildings and transportation. For in-

stance, the Paris metro network is being ex-

tended to link the campus with the city and

the Orly airport.

On the 5.3 km


large campus, 60,000

students (of which 12% are not from

France), and more than 10,000 research-

ers and teaching researchers are already

doing their daily work. More than 70 pro-

ject leaders have been successful in win-

ning grants from the European Research

Council. The campus was also built with

something else in mind: “Several fields of

scientific research teams are moving clos-

er together on campus, in particular those

addressing the areas of food/agriculture,

pharmacy, nanosciences, cell biology, neu-

rology, physics of lasers, high-performance

digital calculation, information science and

technology. Several thousands of research-

ers […] benefit from an environment spe-

cifically designed for enhanced interac-

tions,” states the press kit. And there’s one

more treat for prospective students, who

want to come to France. They don’t need

to brush up their French language skills,

as some Masters courses are fully taught in

English. Dominique Vernay told

BBC News


“It’s not only allowed, it’s now encouraged

to teach in English.”

That being said, 49 Master degree pro-

grammes are on offer at the moment, in-

cluding Biodiversity, Ecology & Evolution,

Bioinformatics and Public Health. The first

Master students, who take a ride on the

“next great historic wave of French higher

education”, will begin their studies in Sep-


Standard format for neuroscience data

One Format to...

Striving for uniformity mustn’t be a bad

thing. A uniform file format, for instance,

would make data sharing so much easi-

er. That’s why, in late November, the first

hackathon of the recently formed Neuro-

data without Borders initiative took place

at the Janelia FarmResearch Campus, USA.

Its goal: collecting ideas for the standardisa-

tion of neuroscience data on an internation-

al scale. The project’s first “problem child”

is cell-based neurophysiological data.

Amongst others, Ken Harris (University

College London), Christian Kellner (Ludwig

Maximilian University, Munich) and Vaclav

Papez (University of West Bohemia, Plzen)

travelled from Europe to the US to present

their suggestions. Pressing data frommeth-

ods as diverse as extracellular array record-

ings, two-photon calcium imaging, intracel-

lular recordings, video behaviour tracking

and “who knows what else in the future”,

as Harris put it, into one standard format

makes high demands on the candidate file

formats. It must be “sufficiently flexible and

extensible to incorporate present and future

electrophysiological and optical physiologi-

cal data (i.e., cellular imaging) and […] to

include metadata (experimental variables),

Recently Awarded

New year, fresh prizes. In mid-January,

FEBS and EMBO announced that plant


Caroline Dean

from the John

Innes Centre, UK, will be this year’s win-

ner of the

FEBS | EMBO Women in

Science Award

. Honouring both the

lucky winner’s “outstanding achieve-

ments” in molecular biology and her role

in promoting and inspiring young female

scientists, Dean particularly impressed

the prize jury with her work on vernalisa-

tion, the acceleration of flowering by

prolonged cold. Also in outside research,

Dean has been active in pushing plant

biology. She is a founding member of

the steering committee for the


dopsis thaliana

Genome Research Pro-

ject, co-founder of the European Plant

Science Organization and a valuable

adviser for politicians. The award comes

with a prize money of €10,000.

After just winning the


Prize in Life Sciences

(approx. €2.6

million) and the

Ernst Jung Prize for





from the Helmholtz Centre

for Infection Research in Braunschweig,

Germany, also pocketed the


Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine

(approx. €610,000). All awards, of

course, honour her for her discoveries

revolving around the bacterial CRISPR/

Cas system, which, as a precise genome

editor, has since become one of the

most important tools in molecular biol-

ogy. Charpentier will use the majority of

the prize money to continue her research

on the pathogenicity of



, the bacterium that set off the

medical revolution. The second half of

the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine went

to a slightly less prominent but not less

influential scientist,

Rudolf Zechner

from the University of Graz, Austria. By

elucidating the pathways that control

lipolysis and lipid synthesis, the bio-

chemist hopes to, one day, understand

what causes metabolic diseases like

obesity, insulin resistance and type 2

diabetes. Among his major discoveries

is adipose triglyceride lipase, an enzyme

essential for functional lipolysis. -KG-

Mistaken Identity

The photo that is supposedly depicting Vincent Noireaux in the

Journal Club from Israel article, in our last issue (see p. 34), shows

in fact Armando Hernandez-Garcia from Wageningen University, who

helped develop artificial viruses (see p. 22-25). The picture on the

left shows the real Vincent Noireaux. We apologise for the mistake.