Laboratory of Evolutionary Genetics and Ecology
LEGE tackles fundamental questions related to the evolution of reproductive modes and seeks to understand what mechanisms underlie adaptability in the absence of sexual reproduction, even in extreme environments. We employ various tools (fieldwork, animal cytology, molecular biology, comparative genomics and bioinformatics) to study evolutionary processes at the level of populations, both experimental and natural, and genomes in various living systems.
The model systems currently studied within LEGE are bdelloid rotifers, Corbicula clams, and Acanthamoeba amoeba, all of which employ different modes of asexual reproduction and have adapted to different type of environments. Moreover, all these asexual lineages are cosmopolitan and widely distributed.
Laboratory of Analysis by Nuclear Reaction
The LARN lab is one of the few centers in Belgium studying, among other things, the impact of ionizing radiation delivered by particle accelerator on the human health.
As a backbone of the radiobiology group together with the URBC, the URBE research units and the LEGE lab, it is a member of the Namur Research Institute in Life Sciences (NARILIS) that promotes life science research, with the aim to further improve the health and wellbeing in humans and animals.
It provides access to any users to state-of-the-art irradiation infrastructures ranging from X-ray to carbon ions, with the support of Monte-Carlo simulations of radiation damages. It is a member of a worldwide networking infrastructure.
Prof Karine VAN DONINCK
Prof. Karine Van Doninck received her PhD in 2003, jointly from the laboratory of Cellular Genetics at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) with Prof. Micheline Kirsch-Volders and the laboratory of Freshwater Biology at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINSc) with Dr. Koen Martens and Dr. Isa Schön. She worked as a post-doctoral researcher (2003-2006) in the laboratory of Prof. Matthew Meselson in the Molecular and Cellular Department (MCB) at Harvard University, USA. She worked on a second postdoc (2006-2007) on a Marie-Curie (IEF) grant in the laboratory of Dr. Yannis Michalakis at GEMI-IRD (France). In September 2007, she became an Associate Professor at the University of Namur and founded the Laboratory of Evolutionary Genetics and Ecology (LEGE). In September 2009, she was awarded the grade of Professor at UNamur and in 2017 Full Professor. Her research interests integrate molecular genetics, organism evolution, evolution of reproductive modes, comparative genomics and invasive species.
Karine Van Doninck was appointed Full Professor at Université Libre de Bruxelles on 01/10/2020, she is setting up the Research Unit Molecular Biology and Evolution with the Department of Biology (DBO).
Prof Stéphane LUCAS
Prof. Stéphane Lucas is a physicist by training who initiated the study of ionizing radiations on human health at UNamur 15 years ago. Together with Prof. Carine Michiels from URBC, he set up a radiobiology research group, which is recognized worldwide and brought UNamur in the forefront of cancer treatment by particle therapy. He is the director of the LARN lab and his main interests are nanotechnology, radiobiology, Monte-Carlo simulations and surface treatment. With Prof. K. Van Doninck, he is one of the stakeholder of the RISE project.
Prof Anne-Catherine HEUSKIN
Professor Anne-Catherine Heuskin holds a professor position at UNamur since January 2017. Previously, she held various post-doctoral positions, among which one year at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, CA, USA, where she worked on simulations of brest cancer induced by spatial radiation. In 2015, she took part in the NASA space radiation summer school at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, NY, USA. Her research interests in radiobiology comprise irradiation of in vitro cells with charged particles, biological assays, theoretical modeling of cell response to radiation, interactions of charged particles with matter and dosimetry calculations.
Dr Boris HESPEELS
Dr. Boris Hespeels is the scientific manager of the RISE project at UNamur. He has been working for10 years on bdelloids rotifers. His research focuses on the characterization of the DNA repair system among bdelloids rotifers in response to desiccation or ionizing radiation. Passionate by the space conquest, he is now focusing on the comprehension of how living organisms, and in particular bdelloid rotifers, can be affected by space environment (including high dose of radiation and microgravity). Since 2017, he is managing the project full time and coordinates the scientific research related to RISE. He is the link between the science team, the ESA and industry (like Kayser Italia) in order to develop and support the success of RISE.
Dr Victoria MORIS
Dr. Victoria Moris is passionate about the molecular mechanisms behind the adaptation of species to stressful environments (starvation, desiccation, radiation). After studying starvation resistance of sacoglossan sea slugs for a year at the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig (Bonn, Germany), she studied during her PhD the genes involved in the biosynthetic pathway of cuticular hydrocarbons, used in insects both in communication and against desiccation (Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg, Germany). In 2019, she started working on the RISE project using her strong skills in molecular biology and bioinformatics. Notably, she performs transcriptomic analyses of rotifers exposed to various radiations. She also started to analyze the gene expression of bdelloid rotifers sent to ISS during Rob1, and will analyze the data collected during Rob2 experiment.
Dr Sébastien PENNINCKX
Dr. Sébastien Penninckx is a chemist by training who specialized in radiobiology. During his PhD, he contributed to the improvement of radiotherapy treatments by developing nanotechnology-based solutions able to modify cellular response to various type of ionizing radiation. Scientific collaborator at NASA Ames Research Center (GeneLab, California, USA) since 2017, he is identifying radio-sensitivity/resistance biomarkers that will be used for astronaut selection in the frame of further space exploration missions. In addition, he is visiting lecturer at UNamur and manages projects related to the development of medical devices for radiobiology and diagnosis applications. It provides scientific support in the framework of the RISE project.
Ing Richard COOS
Ir. Richard Coos is an electromechanics engineer. He is involved in the experiments technical R&D. His main task is the development of a space simulator to characterize the rotifer resistance prior to their launch in space. To do this, he acquired knowledge in low earth orbit environment in order to simulate the solar radiation, space vacuum and temperature. He is also improving the particle accelerator hardware to irradiate desiccated and non-desiccated rotifers to simulate cosmic radiations.
Mr. Jeremy Berthe received his master degree in biology of organisms and ecology in 2018 at UNamur/UCLouvain. He is passionate about the various aspects of biology, from ecosystem to DNA. Becoming an astrobiologist and studying potential live shapes on other planets is his long-time dream. RISE project that he joined in 2020, gave him a good opportunity to get closer to his dream. He is growing cultures of different species of rotifers, managing the laboratory, preparing samples for radiation experiments (RX, protons, vacuum and UVs), and using different techniques to evaluate fertility, survival and the DNA damages of treated samples. He also prepared bdelloid rotifers which were sent to ISS for the Rob2 experiment.
Ms. Lucie Bruneau holds a a Bachelor in Chemistry and Biotechnology (Haute Ecole Provinciale Hainaut Condorcet). She is laboratory technician. She has been working full time on the RISE project since 2017. She is involved in fundamental research on bdelloids by characterizing the extreme resistance of these animals against various stress including high radiation and deep space vacuum. She is also in charge of the technical tests required for the validation of experiments that will take place on board the ISS.
Ms. Margot Cardinal is a technician, graduated with a bachelor in medical biology (HELHa-Fleurus). She has experience in clinical bacteriology as well as the analysis and treatment of labile blood products for transfusion. She is part of the LARN’s team to work on R&D of medical diagnostic devices. She joined the RISE project in 2019 to complete the sciences team for sample preparation, assembly and conditioning tasks for experiments.