First Person is a series of interviews with the first authors of a selection of papers published in Journal of Cell Science, helping early-career researchers promote themselves alongside their papers. Anthony Ravussin is first author on ‘The phosphatidylinositol 3-phosphate-binding protein SNX4 controls ATG9A recycling and autophagy’, published in JCS. Anthony is a postdoc in the lab of Professor Harald Stenmark at the Centre for Cancer Cell Reprogramming, University of Oslo, Norway, investigating the role of PI3P-binding proteins in the control of membrane dynamics.
How would you explain the main findings of your paper in lay terms?
Autophagy is a highly regulated process in which the cell removes unnecessary or dysfunctional components required for normal cell function and homeostasis. It is very important that this process is regulated and does not become defective. Modulation of autophagy has been linked to many diseases, including cancers. Throughout this process, many different genes and proteins are tightly regulated through different signals. There are regulated interactions between several of these proteins, and our findings show that SNX4 is required for proper recycling and trafficking of an autophagy-related integral membrane protein, ATG9A. Without functional SNX4 and ATG9A trafficking, autophagy cannot operate properly.
Were there any specific challenges associated with this project? If so, how did you overcome them?
It is quite challenging to study dynamic processes such as protein trafficking. Imaging and tracking proteins involved in trafficking requires high spatial and temporal resolution microscopy as well as appropriate specific tools. Development of cell lines and usage of different tools always comes with some challenges, especially when the tools are limited, stability is indeterminate and materials are precious. With every microscopy technique, there is a tradeoff between sensitivity, resolution and speed of acquisition.
Why did you choose Journal of Cell Science for your paper?
I am always happy to read the high-quality articles on many diverse topics in Journal of Cell Science, which is a highly reputable journal. My project, focusing on membrane protein trafficking, seemed to be a perfect fit for this journal.
What motivated you to pursue a career in science, and what have been the most interesting moments on the path that led you to where you are now?
I have always been a very curious person and seem to research almost everything I do. My high-school biology class, however, was my first realization of my love for biology, more specifically, human physiology. Furthermore, studying the complexity and importance of the immune system in university left me wanting to learn more. From my first immunology course, it was clear to me that understanding and studying this complex system was what I wanted to pursue.
Who are your role models in science? Why?
It is hard to mention a particular person as a role model as there are and have been so many fantastic scientists in the world who have influenced me. Everyone that has ever taught me has been a role model. This does not have to be direct supervisors or teachers but also other students and postdocs. One significant person that stands out in my mind, however, would have to be Charles Janeway. His conceptual theories and ideas on the activation of the adaptive immune system through a more ancient innate immune system were imperative for the conceptual framework that informs our current understanding of the immune system.
What's next for you?
I have had the chance to learn techniques and see the incredible possibilities of creating tools to study molecular cell biology. In the future, I will use this experience to design immunological experiments and conduct research to better understand the immune system. I believe that the experience I have gained in the last several years will be truly important for my future studies.
Tell us something interesting about yourself that wouldn't be on your CV
Science and research are a big part of my life, but in my spare time my greatest interest, besides my family, is sport. I played soccer all through my childhood and university years, and I still enjoy playing soccer whenever I have the chance (even if it's just kicking the ball around with my dog). Living in Norway, with easy access to the forest and the outdoors, and with ski slopes in the winter and hiking possibilities all year round, is really great. Being outdoors and enjoying sporting activities helps me clear my mind, relax and stay focused on my research during the day.
Anthony Ravussin's contact details: Centre for Cancer Cell Reprogramming, University of Oslo, Montebello, 0379 Oslo, Norway.