RC Starting Grant HYPERCAN - Erika Burioli

Erika BURIOLI, researcher at the IHPE, has been awarded a €1.5 million ERC (European Research Council) Starting Grant to study mussel transmissible cancers.

After studying at the University of Bologna at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, she joined the LABEO laboratory in Caen in 2017 for a post-doc fellowship during which she diagnosed the presence of a cancer of circulating cells, a kind of 'leukaemia', in blue mussels Mytilus edulis. Thanks to a collaboration with Nicolas Bierne from the Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution de Montpellier and Michael Metzger from the Pacific Northwest Institute in Seattle, they were able to show that this cancer has the astonishing characteristic of being transmissible. So, in 2019, she joined the IHPE laboratory in Montpellier for the ANR TRANSCAN project and studied the phenotypic and molecular characteristics of this cancer.

Transmissible cancers are amazing biological entities that spread from one animal to another through the direct transfer of cancer cells. These lineages persist in host populations for hundreds or even thousands of years. A puzzling issue is that, in the absence of known sexual-like reproduction mechanisms, transmissible cancers must cope with clonal degeneration that could limit their persistence. Several transmissible cancer lineages have been now described in Bivalvia, all of them displaying hyperploidy. Erika’s project HYPERCAN aims at deciphering how hyperploidy, in mussel transmissible cancers, influence the cancer fitness and contribute to facing the clonal degeneration and to generating sufficient genetic diversity to persist in host populations. The Mytilus transmissible cancer model provides a fantastic opportunity to study the evolutionary significance of hyperploidy variations in long-lived cancers. Thanks to the genetic difference between the cancer and its host, and the existence of different cancer sub-lineages, with distinct degrees of hyperploidy, the model will allow to study the hyperploidization mechanisms at work in these cancers and the fate of descendant cells.

The project will have multiple applications, beyond the study model systems, including understanding the genetic mechanisms underlying the evolution of long-lived cancers and providing useful information for the evaluation of evolutionary and phenotypic effects associated with hyperploidization in both transmissible and conventional cancers.

Modification date: 26 January 2024 | Publication date: 26 January 2024 | By: Tulip Communication, Erika Burioli