Getting to know...Bernard Peers

Introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background in 5 sentences.

I got my PhD in Biochemistry at the university of Liège (Belgium) studying the mechanisms controlling prolactin gene expression in pituitary. During my postdoc at the Salk Institute (San Diego, USA), I studied the transcription factors involved in the regulation of somatostatin and insulin in pancreatic cells. Afterwards, I got interested in developmental biology and I had the opportunity to participate to a practical workshop on zebrafish; I was directly fascinated by this model and notably by looking at the development of living embryos under the stereomicroscope. I decided to use this animal model to study the factors controlling the organogenesis of pancreas.

How did you decide that you want to be a scientist?

This decision was not taken at particular time in my life but it was “progressive”. In high school, I was lucky to have very good teachers in chemistry and physics. These two teachers were probably the key persons who transmitted me their enthusiasm for science. At the university, I was very attracted by the fields of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and I was lucky to do a PhD in the lab of Professor Joseph Martial, a pioneer in Genetic Engineering. I enjoyed so much the life in the lab that I wanted to do research at that moment.

What is the main goal of your current investigation?

I am studying the factors involved in pancreas development and trying to understand the regulatory cascade controlling pancreatic cell differentiation. Presently, I am also interested to the evolutionary aspects of pancreas development by comparing the factors and mechanisms found in fish and mammals and trying to identify the conserved aspects of the regulatory network.

Which part of your work are you most proud of?

I am proud of several studies and publications but one of the best studies is perhaps the cloning and characterization of the PDX1 transcription factor, a (the) key regulator controlling the pancreatic cell fate.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you have become?

Maybe a teacher (perhaps a primary school teacher).

How do you spend your free time?

I like doing sport such as playing tennis, biking, running and paragliding.

How do you think ZENCODE can contribute to science?

ZENCODE will contribute to science by different ways. Firstly, novel genomic and transcriptomic data are being generated and these will contribute to a deeper understanding of various aspects of development and biological processes of zebrafish. Secondly, several ESR are involved in the bioinformatics analysis, organization and the integration of all zebrafish data; such database (danio-code) will become an extremely useful tool for future studies. Thirdly, through the trainings organized within the ZENCODE project, all ESR will get a broad and solid background in genomics/transcriptomics as well as in bioinformatics; thus, they will receive the key tools to become outstanding scientists.

Why do you think zebrafish is a good model organism?

Because zebrafish has so many advantages and offer great tools notably to study development (i.e. easy forward and reverse genetics, large clutches of eggs, external fertilization and development, easy experimentation, transparency of embryos). The answer to this question depends of the studied topics and field: zebrafish is not so easy for metabolic analyses, for example. The studies and discoveries published during the last 30 years using zebrafish confirm the power and usefulness of this animal model. Of course, it must be kept in mind that fish and tetrapods diverged about 400 millions years ago and that all results obtained in zebrafish are not identical to humans. Nevertheless, the comparison of data obtained in different species is very informative to understand the evolutionary aspects of any biological process and this seems important to me to get an accurate understanding of mechanisms of life.

What do you think is the most challenging for you in this project?

Personally, the challenges are (were) mostly on the practical aspects:

  1. perform all the planned tasks in only three years
  2. the logistic organization of the ZENCODE ATC2/3 training at GIGA.

What is the best way to follow your research activity?

By looking at our published papers using PubMed or looking at our lab website.

Just to finish, what advice would you give to the ESRs and future scientists?

  1. Never give up! Even if everything seem to fail, results will always come with determination and perseverance.
  2. When your results are not the expected ones, there is something interesting to discover.
  3. It is always good to listen the advices from colleagues (and PI), but try to follow your own feelings and ideas.