Eric Karsenti : Neptune aboard

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13 January 2014

Eric Karsenti : Neptune aboard

The co-director of the expeditions Tara Oceans (2009–2012) and Tara Oceans Polar Circle (2013) is not only an experienced and well-respected scientist, he’s also a « lucky guy ». Interview with a wise man.

When you first meet this inveterate biologist, you can’t help but be charmed by his enthusiasm and curiosity. Thanks to the Tara he’s now sharing his passion with a wider audience. « That’s one of the great problems of science », he admits, his voice clear and fluent. « A scientist could spend his life locked away in the laboratory. I’m a researcher and I found that I had lost contact with the outside world. From that standpoint the Tara has been enormously enriching for me. I’m in contact with civil society once again. The Tara forced me out of my ivory tower. We’re bringing science to the public and children, and that’s fabulous! »

Graduating from the Sorbonne’s Faculty of Science with a diploma in biophysics, Éric Karsenti soon took to the sea and even sailed with Éric Tabarly. As time went by the oceans became one of his favourite areas of research. Currently a CNRS research director and head of unit at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), Éric’s work focuses on how molecular events regulate the cell cycle. His peers agree that he has developed a new approach which has helped make clear how the shape of cells and their division are the result of complex and dynamic interactions.

His work aboard the Tara is not only the fruit of his imagination but also of intense interdisciplinary collaboration among an army of researchers. The highest point so far has been the gathering of 28,000 samples during the Tara Oceans expedition to create a plankton data bank. The samples are a veritable « scientific treasure » and will be studied for years to come. Promising initial results have already been published. Tara Oceans, he says, « was such a professional project that our research has gained in credibility with the scientific community. It is extremely satisfying. » Perhaps an example of this is the recent article on Éric in the prestigious magazine Nature (September 2013). And thanks once again to the Tara, he has gained a wealth of memories to make him feel more than satisfied: « I remember the crew from the TV programme Thalassa coming aboard in 2009 at the start of the expedition. We scientists were putting together the protocols and they had to prepare a five minute slot every Friday. Everybody was a little stressed. It was tense, pleasant and sometimes funny! »

«We’re bringing science to the public and children, and that’s fabulous!»

He couldn’t forget, either, the time he was aboard between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia in November 2012 when the wind blew 30 to 80 knots for three solid weeks. « In my role as head scientist I had to adapt our schedule to the weather conditions and, with help from skipper Hervé Bourmaud, we located the water masses we wanted to sample using satellite maps. We then had to chose the right sailing strategy to be in the right place at the right moment. It was very interesting. A bit like a video game in real time… » Exceptional Éric Karsenti! More informations

Michel Temman, editor-in-chief of the Tara’s newspaper “special 10 years”