Valérie Gabelica receives a prize from the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation

On November 23, 2021, the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation awarded its scientific prizes to 20 exceptional life science researchers. Valérie Gabelica, Inserm research director at laboratory ARNA* and IECB** is the 2021 winner of the Liliane Bettencourt Prize for Life Sciences, accompanied by a €300,000 grant.

  • 15/12/2021

Valérie Gabelica © Alexandre Darmon / Art in Research pour la Fondation Bettencourt Schueller Valérie Gabelica © Alexandre Darmon / Art in Research pour la Fondation Bettencourt Schueller

It is hard to imagine a kind of cell activity more delicately controlled than reading information contained in genes. Throughout the reading process, there can be pauses, accelerations and silences, marked by changes in the structure of the nucleic acids used for this purpose, DNA and RNA. These changes in structure are sparked by interactions with other molecules or by chemical modifications (known as covalent modifications) in nucleic acids.

To study the interactions between nucleic acids and other molecules, such as ions or medications, Valérie Gabelica’s team has developed a high level of expertise in mass spectrometry techniques. This powerful means of analysis makes it possible to detect and identify molecules of interest by measuring their mass. Currently, the team is working on studying covalent modifications, which chemically modify nucleic acids. The study of the consequences of these modifications on health is currently limited by the lack of sufficiently powerful technology, capable of revealing the changes produced by a large number of different modifications (more than 130 for RNA!) in a long DNA or RNA sequence.

The Liliane Bettencourt Prize for Life Sciences will allow Valérie Gabelica’s team to continue pushing the limits of mass spectrometry and develop a technique to make it possible to analyze the effect of covalent modifications on the tridimensional structure of DNA and RNA sequences. This will allow the researchers to understand which modifications regulate the structure of two specific kinds of nucleic acids:

  • Promoters, DNA sequences that regulate when, where and how a gene is read. When a promoter forms specific tridimensional structures, gene reading is paused. Certain modifications in these structures could therefore impact the reading of genes relating to cancer.
  • tRNA, which work to build proteins after a gene is read. Their highly specific tridimensional structure, and therefore their function, is easily disrupted by covalent modifications.

*ARNA –Acides nucléiques: Régulations Naturelles et Artificielles  (Nucleic Acids: Natural and Artificial Regulations; CNRS, Inserm and University of Bordeaux)

**IECB – Institut Européen de Chimie et de Biologie (European Institute of Chemistry and Biology; CNRS, Inserm and University of Bordeaux)

Scientific contact

Valérie Gabelica
Inserm research director (ARN laboratory & IECB)