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- Thijs Ettema
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I initially completed a Bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, before pursuing a Masters’ degree in bioinformatics and genomics at Aix-Marseille University (France). At that time, I was introduced to evolutionary biology and phylogenetics during my classes with Dr. Céline Brochier-Armanet and I completely “fell for it”. Fortunately, Céline agreed to supervise me during the second year of my Masters’, at the end of which I obtained a fellowship from the French government to continue on as a PhD student, which I defended in June 2011.
Although I always knew I wanted to pursue a career in research, evolutionary biology wasn’t an early calling for me, and my PhD experience was a revelation. Trying to understand how Life emerged and evolved over billions of years to lead to the extraordinary diversity of organisms found on Earth today was fascinating! It has been a passion forever since.
After my PhD, I had the chance to be part of world-class groups in evolutionary biology, first as a postdoctoral fellow in Andrew Roger’s lab (Dalhousie University, Canada), and now as a Marie Curie Fellow in the Ettema-lab.
My primary research interests are in evolutionary microbiology. We know that Life is divided into three Domains (Archaea, Bacteria and Eukarya) and that, within the latter, multicellular organisms (such as animals, fungi and plants) represent only a small corner of biodiversity. Indeed, most eukaryotic diversity is composed of a wide array of unicellular and multicellular photosynthetic and heterotrophic protists. Understanding both the origin of the eukaryotic cell and the evolutionary paths leading to the morphological, metabolic and genetic diversity of eukaryotes today remains one of the most fascinating challenges in evolutionary biology.
Investigations of the origin and evolution of eukaryotes concern three main topics:
1) Understanding the relationships of eukaryotes with the other two domains of cellular Life (Archaea and Bacteria)
2) Characterizing the Last Eukaryotic Common Ancestor (LECA) from a genetic, cellular and metabolic point of view
3) Investigating the phylogenetic relationships within the Tree of eukaryotes as well as the horizontal exchange of genetic material that might have occurred between distantly related eukaryote lineages.
Addressing each of these three topics is indispensable to understanding the emergence and evolution of eukaryote-specific features, as well as the fundamental aspects of the eukaryotic cell biology and metabolism. Over the years, I have focused each of these three topics by integrating comparative genomic and molecular phylogenetic approaches.
Given our complementary research interests and expertise, joining Thijs’ lab was an obvious choice for me!
Here, I am analysing novel metagenomic sequence data using phylogenomic approaches to pursue topics 1) and 2) described above. Among others, I am investigating the contribution of several new lineages of uncultivated prokaryotes to the origin of eukaryotes. I will also aim to place more precisely the eukaryotic lineage in the Tree of Life, and in particular to better solve their relationships with the Asgard archaea.