Scientist Spotlight: featuring Francesco Marchetti

Dr. Francesco Marchetti began attending EMGS meetings as a postdoc in 1992, although the society became relevant to his career prior to his first EMGS meeting. When he was working on his thesis in Italy, his supervisor attended a meeting where she met a professor from Louisiana with whom she began a collaboration. The professor came to do a sabbatical in Italy while Francesco was completing his thesis, and when the professor returned to the U.S., he asked if Francesco was interested in joining his lab. Francesco moved to Shreveport, Louisiana in 1991 and attended his first EMGS meeting the following year. On his first impression of the society, he said,

“As soon as I moved to the U.S., I started attending EMGS meetings because they were the meetings most relevant to the type of work that I was doing, and there was the possibility of meeting people. The authors of papers I had read were suddenly real people in front of me. And when you start as a young scientist, when you go to a huge meeting, you’re always lost, you don’t know anybody and you really feel isolated. At the EMGS, you always feel included and welcomed, so it only took me a couple years to really feel that EMGS was a home for me. It has been very helpful to my career because all the positions I’ve held came about through conversation and meeting people at the Annual Meeting.”

One such meeting took place early in Francesco’s association with the society. As a postdoc, Francesco met former EMGS president Andy Wyrobek, resulting in his move to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to work in Dr. Wyrobek’s group in 1994. A three-year position at his lab became a seventeen-year project and a defining period of Francesco’s career. Attending the annual meetings also provided Francesco with opportunities to establish collaborations resulting in what he deemed his best papers. When asked to elaborate on some of the most impactful collaborations he has been a part of, he gave details on three, stating,

“The first one was with Sundar Venkatachalam. I don’t think he’s coming to the EMGS anymore. Last I heard, he’s a project officer at NIH, but at the time when we met, he was a scientist at the University of Tennessee. We started talking and he had a project with a knockout mouse model with some unusual results he couldn’t explain. When he was mating the knockout female to a normal male, he wasn’t getting a lot of pups; but when he was mating the male knockout to a normal female, he was getting a normal number of pups. To me it seemed that what he was experiencing in his data had to do with a defect in female germ cells; thus, we started collaborating and we showed that the knockout was affecting oogenesis specifically and the proper division of chromosomes in the eggs. So, the majority of the eggs that these mice were creating had an abnormal number of chromosomes which was resulting in embryonic loss, and that’s why there were not enough pups born. We put all this together and we published the data in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in 2009.

“The second collaboration was with Jason Bielas. I know that he has changed his job and that may have taken him in a different direction, but we talked at an EMGS meeting, and I had an idea about looking at mutations in the mitochondrial DNA, and not in the nuclear DNA, and he was very interested. We collaborated, and we published a paper in Nucleic Acids Research in 2016, showing that contrary to my hypothesis, which was that mitochondrial DNA would be very susceptible to the induction of mutations, the opposite was happening and there were fewer mutations induced in the mitochondrial DNA versus the nuclear DNA. That was a surprising finding, but again it turned into a very nice paper that was featured on the cover of this high impact journal.

“And the third one is, of course, my collaboration with Carole Yauk. We started collaborating when I was still in California and one of my first post-docs at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory actually came from Ottawa. He had done his PhD at Health Canada and came to do a postdoc with me to study the effects of tobacco smoking in germ cells. That’s how Carole and I started to collaborate. That work turned into a paper that was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in 2011. When the position at Health Canada became available, the idea of growing the collaboration with Carole, not just being collaborators but being co-workers, was one of the deciding factors of my move. And that is a decision that I have never regretted. Carole and I continue to work together and pretty much everything we do is a joint project. I would say right now, even though I spent seventeen years with Andy Wyrobek, that my collaboration with Carole is the most important collaboration I have had, and will have, in my career. I don’t have many years left in my career and I don’t think someone will replace Carole.”

Given the opportunities presented to Francesco through the EMGS, he said that; “with those experiences, I felt that it was also an organization where I needed to give back. That’s why I started to be involved in the workings of the society.” Francesco’s first involvement with the administrative affairs of the society was his term as chair of the Germ Cell Special Interest Group. From there he became chair of the In Vivo Mutagenesis Special Interest Group and was subsequently asked to run for council. While he was not elected as councilor in his first run, he ran again and was successful. While on Council, he was asked to consider becoming the Editor-in-Chief of Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis, which he accepted. Francesco sat on the Council for over eight years as a Councilor or Editor-in-Chief. On his current role as EMGS president, Francesco shared that he turned down the request for him to run several times before he ran in 2020, to great success.

In a few final words of advice to EMGS membership, Francesco had to say,

“Do not be afraid to put yourself in front of anybody, regardless of how untouchable you think they are. When you are a student and you are wowed by all the papers you read and you find yourself in front of the person who actually wrote that paper, you can feel very intimidated. So, I would say don’t be intimidated. Everybody is very welcoming. I think that is a key feature of EMGS. Established investigators all understand that students and new investigators are the future of the society, and we need to welcome them from the beginning and help build their careers. Make them feel welcome, and they will be more likely to come back and become the leaders of the future. When I was a postdoc, it never crossed my mind that I would be coming back to the EMGS forever, or that one day I would be in the position I’m in today as President of the society. And if it happened for me, it could happen for anybody.”

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