Olivier Pourquié is a developmental biologist recognized for his work on embryonic segmentation. His studies provided the first evidence of the existence of a molecular oscillator – the segmentation clock- associated to the rhythmic production of vertebral precursors (the somites) in the embryo, a discovery qualified as a milestone of 20th century developmental biology by the magazine Nature. His laboratory made major contributions toward understanding the molecular mechanism underlying vertebrate segmentation through which the periodic organization of the spine is established during development. Pourquié also made important discoveries on the control of body axis formation, bilateral symmetry and segment number in
the embryo. Pourquié was born in France and grew up in Paris. He obtained an engineering degree (1988) and a PhD (1992) from the National Institute for Agronomy in Paris (now AgroParisTech). He started his first laboratory at the Developmental Biology Institute of Marseilles (IBDM, France) and moved to the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in 2002
where he became a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. In 2009, he moved to Strasbourg (France) to become director of the IGBMC (Institute of Genetics and Molecular Biology). In 2014, he moved back to the US and became the Frank Mallory Burr Professor of Pathology and Genetics at the Brigham and Women?s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Pourquié is an elected EMBO member since 2002 and was the editor in Chief of the journal Development for 9 years.

Research Interests

The Pourquié laboratory uses the musculo-skeletal system as a paradigm to study the establishment of cardinal features of the vertebrate body plan, such as segmentation or bilateral symmetry. Their studies have largely focused on the cellular and molecular dissection of the Segmentation Clock- the molecular oscillator which controls the periodic segmentation of
vertebral precursors. They also investigate how embryonic elongation (body formation) is coordinated with segmentation and regionalization to establish the vertebral formula characteristic of each species. Their research led them to characterize the cross-talk between cell metabolism and signaling in the control of patterning and cell fate during development of
the musculo-skeletal system. While most of these studies have been carried out in mouse and chicken embryos, they have now developed in vitro systems based on differentiated mouse and human pluripotent stem cells. Such systems can recapitulate the segmentation clock oscillations, allowing a fine dissection of its molecular control. These systems can be used to
reconstitute differentiation of the paraxial mesoderm-derived lineages such as skeletal muscle lineages and to study poorly understood aspects of human development. They also embarked on translational approaches aiming at producing cells of the muscle and vertebral lineages in vitro from pluripotent cells to study human diseases of the musculo-skeletal axis and for the
development of therapeutic approaches.

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Primary Section

Section 22: Cellular and Developmental Biology