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Evolving with evolution

Faithful to his first name, Florian Maumus loves plants – a passion he explores in his career by combining genetics, genomics and bioinformatics. A research engineer at the Genomics-Informatics Research Unit at INRA’s Île-de-France Versailles-Grignon Research Centre, he is this year’s winner of the Promising Researcher Award. Read on for a portrait of a scientist who loves life.

Florian Maumus, a research engineer at the Genomics-Informatics Research Unit at INRA’s Île-de-France Versailles-Grignon Research Centre, receives the 2017 Promising Researcher Award © NICOLAS Bertrand
By Catherine Foucaud, translated by Emma Morton Saliou
Updated on 12/15/2017
Published on 11/20/2017

Florian Maumus is a bit of a wallflower. “I hate to disappoint, but I’m a completely normal person”, he says right off the bat. With 48 publications in the most prestigious international scientific journals, Dr Maumus views his recent award as recognition for his commitment and career. He particularly enjoys his work as a bioinformatics specialist, which involves observing and understanding genomes, and speaks about it with contagious enthusiasm: surprised that it happened, but thrilled at the opportunity to express his love for life.

From a wonderful garden and a little imagination...

Florian’s interest in everything around him ‘grew’ in the garden of his family’s country home. There, he discovered nature and developed a keen interest in the living world and plants in particular. He shared this hobby with his mum, of whom he speaks affectionately, and who was instrumental in his appreciation for simple beauty. His father taught him to never give up. Florian's school years didn't make much of a mark; he remembers being an average if not mediocre student who sat at the back of the class and bumbled along to high school, where he completed a mathematics and science programme.
During this period, Dr Maumus was more inclined towards art: photography, sculpture, sketching or music. Early on, creativity was his driving force.
Florian learned to love school anew at university, where long hours spent in lectures were like watching a fascinating show. Still enthralled by all things green, he completed a Master’s degree in plant science followed by a doctoral thesis.

Step off the beaten track and explore life

... to the lab…

Observant and curious, Florian spent three years focused on single-cell and diatomaceous micro-algae, in which he studied gene expression and genomic evolution at the Department of Biology of the Ecole normale supérieure (ENS, CNRS, INSERM).  Here he discovered transposable elements – a new and enduring passion. These repetitive mobile DNA sequences, also called transposons, play a key role in genome changes: by changing position, they create mutations if they are not destroyed by their host. Discovered in the 1950s, they are the subject of renewed interest with the emergence of genetics and genomics, and allowed the young student Florian Maumus to acquire a new vision of genome evolution.
After successfully completing his thesis, Florian joined INRA in 2009 for his first post-doctoral research position at the Institut Jean-Pierre Bourgin, where he ‘knitted together’ plants and molecular biology on a team led by Hervé Vaucheret. When high-volume sequencing techniques appeared, Florian took on the challenge of a significant methodological re-orientation. Turning his interests to bioinformatics gave him access to other aspects – evolution and comparison, for example – of genomes and, as a result, transposable elements. He subsequently joined the Genomics-Info Research Unit (URGI), where he worked as a post-doctoral researcher, supervised by Hadi Quesneville, another major specialist of transposable elements.
From the hustle and bustle of the lab, Florian gradually moved to an office setting, exchanging rows of test tubes for the task of organising data repositories as he explored this new field.

...where expertise is everything

In 2014 Florian joined INRA as a full-fledged researcher and continued his research activities at the URGI, moving from the childhood dream of horticulture and market gardening to the status of researcher at what he likes to call ‘a major European and international player’. No one is less surprised by this career path than his mum, who sees his success as a result of his observation and reasoning skills – a character trait he has always had, playing devil’s advocate whenever needed and always trying to understand other points of view.
Time has passed quickly – and well – for Florian, for whom scientific research is a perfect fit for his personality and a chance to step off the beaten track and explore life. “Research is a bit like jazz improv: you need to combine skill sets to write a new repertoire”.

In the middle, Florian Maumus, recipient of the 2017 Promising Researcher Award, surrounded by his team of the Genomics-Informatics Research Unit at INRA Île-de-France – Versailles-Grignon. © INRA, NICOLAS Bertrand
In the middle, Florian Maumus, recipient of the 2017 Promising Researcher Award, surrounded by his team of the Genomics-Informatics Research Unit at INRA Île-de-France – Versailles-Grignon © INRA, NICOLAS Bertrand

What's next?

Though the future looks secure, a ‘transposition’ of sorts is not impossible for Dr Maumus, who would like to come back to what’s tangible, where transposable elements play a role in new projects to create plant varieties, and return to the lab to convert his new knowledge into action.
The new projects he recently submitted to his scientific community and financial backers reflect these new possibilities more than ever. Approval of a project in the near future would provide further recognition and fulfilment.

Mini-CV

  • 37 years old
  • 2014 – present: Researcher at INRA Ile-de-France Versailles-Grignon, at the Genomics-Informatics Research Unit
  • 2011 – 2014: Postdoctoral researcher at the Genomics-Informatics Research Unit
  • 2009 – 2010: Postdoctoral researcher at INRA Ile-de-France Versailles-Grignon, Institut Jean-Pierre Bourgin (INRA, AgroParisTech, ELR CNRS)
  • 2005 – 2009: Doctoral thesis in biology (Université Paris Sud) - Transcriptional and Epigenetic regulation in the marine diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum / https://www.theses.fr/187116962
  • 2005: Master’s degree in Plant Science (Université Pierre et Marie Curie) (UPMC)

Awards and honours

  • 2017 Promising Researcher Award

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