Raphaël Mercier, INRA award "Scientific challenge" 2016

Expert in meiosis
Raphaël Mercier, young Senior Scientist of his team « Meiosis mechanisms and apomixis », in the group « Meiosis and recombination », the Department « Dynamics and Expression of the Genome » (now Genomes), specialized very early on meiosis (the universal mechanism allowing to shuffle and distribute chromosomes during the formation of sexual cells). His interest in science began in ninth grade, and since 2003 he contributed in the group to the characterization of no less than sixty genes involved in meiosis, these results having heavy impact in the plant’s field. Axel Kahn, President of the « Comité d'éthique » Inra-Cirad-Ifremer, presented the INRA award "Scientific challenge ( « Défi scientifique 2016 ») during the 11th ceremony the 13th december 2016.

Raphaël Mercier explains us: « The genes involved in meiosis are remarkably well conserved among organisms as different as yeasts, plants, mice, and humans. Therefore, identifying such genes in the plant model Arabidopsis thaliana should help us identify their homologs in other species, but working with Arabidopsis is much easier. »
Step by step, to switch off genes in plant and to observe the consequences in offspring allow to understand the role of these genes during meiosis, the heart of heredity and a key issue in biology. To better understand how chromosomes mix up and control their distribution have direct applications in the field of plant breeding. His work and the work of the MeioRec group have greatly contributed to better reach fundamental mechanisms of meiosis being also attached to transfer knowledge to field plants as for example to potatoe plant. His fundamental research leads to discoveries with crucial applications, outskirts of a revolution in plant breeding.

The stimulating context of a cohesive research group of around thirty people with the unique facilities of IJPB to grow and study plants (green houses, culture chambers and platforms of the Plant Observatory) are in favor of a top-level research. Raphaël’s scientific works has been awarded of several scientific prices, the first one as earlier as for is PhD thesis. His research results on apomixis (see IJPB news «A new way to clone plants») were one of the 10 discoveries of the year 2011 of the journal « La Recherche ». A « Starting Grant » of the European Council (ERC) with a financial support of 5 years (2012-16) allowed the development of is work and his team.

In the future, his dream is to understand meiosis mysteries still unraveled. One question continues to haunt Raphaël Mercier: what controls the number of crossing-over events that take place during meiosis? Why this number is highly constrained and with an average of about two per chromosome and per meiotic cycle in most species, considering that a cell is perfectly healthy when 10 crossing occur ?