Susana Coelho joins the MPI for Developmental Biology as Director

Biologist boosts research on evolution, development and reproduction of living organisms

Photo: Jean-Claude Winkler

The appointment of Susana Coelho as a Director at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology will advance the research focus in evolutionary biology. Coelho's work has provided new and decisive insights into the field of sexual reproduction for evolutionary research. Using brown algae as model organisms, the biologist casts a new light on origin and evolution of the sexes and sexual life cycles of living organisms.

“Susana’s research program is a fantastic, highly complementary addition to our institute, which greatly values a wide diversity of research questions and organisms. We are very fortunate that we have been able to recruit such an outstanding, world class colleague!” said Detlef Weigel, Executive Director of the institute.

The genetic material of living organisms is reshuffled during sexual reproduction. Whilst the core processes that define sex (meiosis and syngamy) are universal, sex determination systems are not evolutionary conserved but are bewilderingly diverse and have had rapid transitions rates during evolution. Transitions among sex determination systems in living organisms have profound evolutionary and ecological consequences, but our understanding of the mechanisms, ultimate causes, and the consequences of transitions is still surprisingly incomplete.

Based on the characteristics of brown algae, Coelho aims to gain new insights into the functional principles associated with such major wraps in evolution and their effects on living organisms and their ecology.

Susana Coelho was born in Portugal and completed her dissertation at the Marine Biological Association in the laboratory of Colin Brownlee (Plymouth, United Kingdom). As a postdoctoral fellow, she worked with Akira Peters and Mark Cock to establish the brown algae Ectocarpus as a model organism in evolutionary research.

Since 2006 she worked at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Roscoff and intensified her research on the life cycle and reproduction of brown algae. Since 2010, she led the Algae Genetics team at the Roscoff Biological Station together with Mark Cock and was appointed Research Director at the CNRS in Roscoff in 2015.

Coelho has led several research projects on the evolution and development of brown algae, including two ERC grants (SEXSEA and TETHYS). She has been awarded the bronze medal of the CNRS (2015) and the Trogoboff Prize of the French National Academy of Sciences (2017).