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Laureate of the 2012 ATIP Avenir program


RNAs regulating the complexity of embryonic development

Alena Shkumatava is studying a class of noncoding RNAs, which play a role in the normal development of the nervous system in both zebrafish and mammals.

Out of the millions of nucleotides contained in a whole genome, only a few thousand leads to the production of proteins. Yet genes do not have the monopoly on transcription in cells. The bulk of DNA is transcribed, giving rise to numerous noncoding RNAs that are not translated into proteins.

With support from the Foundation, Alena Shkumatava has embarked on research at the Curie Institute, which provides the ideal environment for studying a little-known category of noncoding RNAs, long intervening noncoding RNAs (lincRNAs). The result of transcription between two coding sequences, thousands of linkRNAs exist in all vertebrates. Alena Shkumatava uses the zebrafish as a model to define the functions, mechanisms and evolutionary origins of linkRNAs. In particular, she is interested in the role they play in the development of the nervous system of embryos.

In fact, she has previously shown that two of the lincRNAs in the zebrafish play a crucial role in normal embroyonic development. Surprisingly, the equivalent lincRNAs in mammals fulfill the same functions, despite major differences in their sequences.

Her work could transform our understanding of genome expression and the regulation of embryonic development.


Alena Shkumatava started working on zebrafish embryology with Carl Neumann. At his laboratory, she explored the differentiation of retina neurons. During her doctoral thesis, she unveiled the cell signaling mechanisms essential to this process. Her postdoctoral fellowship stimulated her interest in noncoding RNAs, especially microRNAs and lincRNAs. She noted that microRNAs, whose main roles include “extinguishing” certain genes, act in coordination with the transcriptional regulation of the target genes. In addition, she demonstrated that lincRNAs play a crucial role in embryonic development, a discovery that forms the basis of her current research.

  • 2001MSc in Biology and Genetics, University of Vienna (Austria)
  • 2005PhD in Genetics and Microbiology, laboratory of Dr. Carl Neumann, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg (Germany) and University of Vienna (Austria)
  • 2006 - 2012Postdoctoral research, laboratories of Prof. David Bartel and Prof. Hazel Sive, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States)
  • 2012Laureate of the ATIP-Avenir program at CRNS and Inserm in partnership with the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation
  • Since 2013Principal Investigator, “long intervening noncoding RNAs in vertebrate development” group, Curie Institute, Paris (France)
  • Since 2014First-class researcher, Inserm (France)