English text.

See more



Laureate of the 2009 ATIP-avenir program


Fighting bacterial infections with RNA

Lionel Navarro is researching the defense mechanism used by plants when threatened by bacterial infection. The process uses small RNAs and could be more universal than currently believed.

Far from the “one gene makes one protein” hypothesis, the small RNAs involved gene silencing (ou interference), a process for regulating gene expression, have only been understood by the scientific community for the past 20 years or so. They are involved in many mechanisms, from embryonic development to regulation of the innate immune system.

Lionel Navarro is interested in this regulatory function. His research with Oliver Voinnet, a pioneer in this field sponsored by the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, has contributed to discoveries regarding the antiviral function of microRNAs. He is now exploring the antibacterial facet of innate plant immunity and has received support from the Foundation to start his own research team at the Institute of Biology of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and purse two main lines of research.

On the one hand, the team is attempting to explain how bacteria stop the RNA interference response in order to infect host cells without being prevented by this line of defense. The molecular mechanisms must first be identified in the plant pathogens that infect Arabidopsis thaliana, a small annual plant. The team will then identify the equivalent mechanisms in human pathogenic bacteria.


Lionel Navarro completed his doctoral thesis at the same institute as Olivier Voinnet a few years before him. Under the supervision of Dr. Jonathan Jones, he learnt genetic and molecular approaches to study disease resistance in plants. One of the publications stemming from his doctoral thesis work was among the 1% most influential scientific articles on plant physiology.

Upon his return to France, Dr. Navarro naturally undertook postdoctoral work with Olivier Voinnet. At the University of Strasbourg’s Institute of Plant Molecular Biology, he helped explain important immune mechanisms processed by microRNAs.

In 2010, Dr. Navarro created his own team at the Institute of Biology of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, with the support of the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation. The team is currently exploring the microRNA mechanisms that enable plants to combat bacterial infections, along with the bacterial strategies used to escape them.

  • 2001 - 2005PhD in Sciences supervised by Dr. Jonathan Jones, Sainsbury Laboratory, John Innes Centre, Norwich (United Kingdom)
  • 2005 - 2009Postdoctoral fellowship supervised by Dr. Olivier Voinnet, Institute of Plant Molecular Biology, University of Strasbourg (France)
  • 2007Irene Manton Prize for the best doctoral thesis in Botany, Linnean Society of London (United Kingdom)
  • 2009Laureate of the ATIP-Avenir program at CNRS and Inserm in partnership with the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation
  • 2010First-class researcher at CNRS (France)