FEBS 60th anniversary reflections – Alain Krol, FEBS Excellence Awards and Fellowships Committee Chair

At this milestone of FEBS turning 60, we asked FEBS Executive Committee Members – the senior scientists currently overseeing the organization – to introduce themselves and reflect on FEBS past, present and future.
FEBS 60th anniversary reflections – Alain Krol, FEBS Excellence Awards and Fellowships Committee Chair

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In brief, what is your role at FEBS?

I became a member of the FEBS Fellowships Committee in 2013 and I have been the Chair of the FEBS Excellence Awards and Fellowships Committee, formerly called the Fellowships Committee, since 2017. The Committee comprises 12 members. The ‘Fellowships’ Office manages applications for FEBS Short-Term Fellowships, Summer Fellowships, Ukrainian Short-Term Fellowships, Excellence Awards, and Booster Funds. I read all the applications received, first to check for technical eligibility and then to assign them to committee members according to their scientific expertise. In addition, I co-organize the annual meeting of my committee in different countries every year, together with a committee member. Along with IUBMB and FASBMB, I also evaluate the PROBio-Africa Fellowships.

As the chair of a Committee, I am a member of the FEBS Executive Committee and of the FEBS Council. I was the Chair of the 47th FEBS Congress in Tours (France), July 2023 and, as a result of that, I am the Vice-Chair of FEBS in 2024.

Tell us a little about your research interests and career.

I am director of research emeritus at the CNRS and professor conventionné at the University of Strasbourg (France).

I earned my PhD in 1973 and the Doctorate-ès-Sciences in 1979 (two theses existed at the time in France), both at the University of Strasbourg, on the determination of the sequence of the E.coli 23S ribosomal RNA and its interactions with ribosomal proteins.

I was recruited as an assistant professor at the University of Strasbourg in 1975, then as a CNRS scientist in 1976. I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA) in 1983–1984 as a visiting scientist, supported by a Fullbright fellowship. After returning to France, I started an independent research group at the CNRS - Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology (IBMC) in Strasbourg, to investigate the sequence/structure/function of small nuclear RNAs and transcription of their genes. Serendipity led the group to discover the peculiar 2D structure of the selenocysteine tRNA and transcription of its gene. This finding marked a twist in my scientific interests, which shifted towards discovering the molecular actors involved in and elucidating the mechanisms of selenocysteine incorporation into selenoproteins in response to an in-frame UGA recoded codon.

What was your first contact with FEBS?

I attended my first FEBS Congress (the ‘10th FEBS Meeting’) in 1975 in Paris. It was organized by Jean-Pierre Ebel who was the head of the department and director of the IBMC Institute at the time. I attended the 1977 FEBS Congress in Copenhagen, then the one in 1999 in Nice, organized by Guy Dirheimer.

Why do you volunteer your time now to FEBS leadership and committee work?

I have had more time to devote to others since becoming an emeritus scientist. Indeed, it is a great pleasure and honor to be able to help young scientists at the beginning (for most of them) of their career. Also, and importantly, I like the role very much.

Looking back over 60 years of FEBS, what about FEBS or its programs would you pick out as particularly valuable for ‘advancing molecular life sciences’?

FEBS Congresses invite prestigious speakers, sometimes Nobel prize winners, who deliver interesting lectures of general interest to a broad audience. This is important not only to established but also to young scientists in order for them to learn the most recent developments in other scientific fields.

What are your main goals at FEBS over the next year or so?

The Excellence Awards program is becoming well-known among the FEBS community and we are receiving outstanding applications. I am very much interested in discovering the career paths of the first candidates, who started in 2022. Also, I am eager to know how many candidates will apply to the new FEBS Booster Fund program and how this program will help their career to develop.

I will be the Chair of FEBS in 2025.

What do you see as the big unanswered questions in the molecular life sciences for the future?

There are so many unanswered questions that it is difficult to establish a hierarchy. I could cite for instance the detailed knowledge of the combinatorial systems leading to vision and odor, starting from a rather limited number of dedicated neurons. Going into exquisite molecular machines, I could cite those involved in (i) gene regulation both at the transcription and translation levels, and (ii) cell division along with the underlying mechanical forces. We are far from knowing all their ‘details’ in health and disease. Lastly, how epigenetics marks are deposited/removed on DNA/RNAs/proteins from external cues is not entirely known.

What to you see as the main challenges in the research culture/landscape for bioscience researchers in the coming years? How could academic Societies help with this?

I would say that an important role of academic Societies should be to disseminate knowledge to the general public, who are largely ignorant of the understanding acquired by the biomolecular sciences for the last 50 years or so. I consider these discoveries as important as those in physics/astrophysics during the past century. The pandemics revealed how ignorant not only the public but also doctors were regarding viruses and RNA vaccines. 

What does FEBS mean to you?

A charity run pro bono by scientists for scientists. In addition, I like very much the friendly atmosphere of the Executive Committees and Councils.

What FEBS opportunities would you recommend to scientists at your or an earlier career stage?

I would strongly recommend to attend FEBS Congresses to acquire a broad knowledge, and to take advantage of all the possibilities offered by the FEBS Excellence Awards and Fellowships Committee to stay abroad in other labs. It is of paramount importance to discover how other labs function – there is always something to learn when one wishes to establish one’s own lab.

Top image of post: FEBS Fellows Meeting, 2022, Vimeiro, Portugal. Alain Krol is second from right.

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