Genetic studies wins A*Star scientist place in elite group

PHOTO: Genetic studies wins A*Star scientist place in elite group

SINGAPORE - Dr Bruno Reversade's work on the genetics of identical twins and rare inherited diseases has earned him a rare honour, and boosted Singapore's science profile.

Last week, he became the first scientist outside of Europe to be chosen to join the European Molecular Biology Organisation's Young Investigator programme.

The programme recognises outstanding scientists aged 40 and below who are leading their first laboratories in Europe and "cooperation partner" countries. Singapore became such a partner country last year.

Those in the programme get ยค15,000 (S$23,500) a year for three years and opportunities to network with each other. The programme started in 2000 and scientists must apply to be accepted. This year, only 22 out of 160 applicants were successful.

Dr Reversade's laboratory at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) aims to find out how a single embryo can develop into two identical babies.

"If we found a gene for twinning, then we would understand how natural cloning takes place in humans," he said. This could help change society's understanding of the meaning of human cloning, he said. "A pair of identical twins are born every 50 seconds in the world, yet nobody condemns their existence on the basis that they are clones of one another."

Dr Reversade's "highly innovative and original" research and his "outstanding" body of work were lauded by the international, 10-strong programme committee.

Since joining A*Star in 2008, the 38-year-old French citizen has published seven papers, four of which were in Nature Genetics, part of the prestigious Nature group of journals.

His lab at A*Star's Institute of Medical Biology (IMB) has also drawn attention from publications such as National Geographic and The Economist.

Earlier this month, the IMB senior principal investigator was also tapped to lead the Genetic Orphan Diseases research programme. The multi-institute programme will study rare genetic diseases and identify the mutations that cause these diseases. This will help scientists understand more common ailments, Dr Reversade said.

The programme will initially focus on skin, cardiovascular, neurological and cognitive disorders.

In 2009, he authored a paper on a rare disease that causes premature ageing. This shed light on the ageing process and led to a collaboration with South Korea's top cosmetics firm AmorePacific.

A doctoral graduate from the University Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris, Dr Reversade said he chose to move to Singapore because of the "scientific momentum generated by A*Star".

Although he had never visited Singapore before the move, he said the transition was easy for him and his wife. She has joined the Singapore Art Museum as a senior manager for international development.

The laurels for getting chosen for the programme should not rest on his shoulders alone, said Dr Reversade. "I am genuinely honoured, but this is certainly not one person's work. I am most grateful to my team and to Singapore for providing such a conducive research environment."

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