“Te diversity of living things is not just big organisms that you can see, like trees or birds, but most of
it is actually single-celled organisms and are important to study to understand how the world came to
be.” said Fabien Burki.
Fabien is a fellow at SciLifeLab, Science for Life Laboratory, a Swedish research center within molecular
biosciences. To further strengthen the research environment the center regularly recruits young, talented
research leaders to become SciLifeLab fellows. Each
fellow is recruited by one of SciLifeLab’s four host universities and receives funding from them.
Fabien did his undergraduate studies and PhD in Geneva, Switzerland. Ten he went to Canada for a one
year postdoc in Vancouver but ended up staying for
nearly seven years before his family decided to go back
to Europe and Fabien joined SciLifeLab.
“Tis fellowship is a great chance because it is good
money and really fexible. Tis is important when you
Unravelling the evolution of eukaryotes
build your group so you
can develop the research
that you want. Te research
environment in Uppsala is
also one of the best places in
Europe to develop my kind
Fabien’s group comprises
one PhD student and three
postdocs at the moment.
Tey mainly use comparative genomics and phylog-enomics to reconstruct the
evolutionary history of eukaryotes - the eukaryote tree
of life - and understand some of the major transitions
in eukaryotic evolution like the acquisition of photo-synthetic ability.
Investigating an unknown phylum
“We are also working on a group of organisms, telone-mids, that might be a phylum of their own. Tey
emerged hundreds of million years ago and seem to be
unrelated to any other known group. We use transcriptomics and genomics to understand what these cells
are, what they do and how they relate to other eukaryotes.”
Another line of research in Fabien’s group is about
understanding the diversity, evolution, and host interaction of a poorly known group of micro-eukaryote
parasites. Tis group, Ascetosporea, includes serious
pathogens of oysters and mussels that represent one of
the biggest threats to the growing aquaculture industry, yet genome data are almost completely lacking.
“Tere has been a recent push in Sweden to develop a
sustainable aquaculture industry. One of the strongest arguments for developing shellfsh aquaculture in
Sweden is that coastal waters are free of some of these
pathogens, including the nasty Bonamia and Marteilia.
Using state-of-the-art molecular methods, we want to
see if this is really the case and look into the genome of
these pathogens to develop better diagnostic tools.”
SciLifeLab – a national resource
SciLifeLab is a Swedish research center within
molecular biosciences with focus on health and
environment. It is also a national center with the
mission to develop, use and provide advanced
technologies. The center infrastructure
encompasses a multitude of biomolecular technologies and bioinformatics services. National
funding makes SciLifeLab’s services and expertise
available to researchers in all of Sweden.
The center is a joint effort by four Swedish universities (Karolinska Institutet, KTH Royal Institute
of Technology, Stockholm University and Uppsala
University). Founded in 2010, the center today
encompasses more than 1 200 researchers mainly located in and around the two center nodes in
Stockholm and Uppsala.