Claude Robert, PhD

Professor, Université Laval

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Research interests

  • Early embryonic development
  • Genetics
  • Génomics

We are interested by the understanding of fundamental mechanisms associated with early embryonic development as well as the application of this knowledge for improving the efficiency of assisted reproductive technologies. In farm animals, these applications are used to disseminate the genetics of animals that demonstrate the best performance of the breed to improve the performance of future generations. In addition, we use genomics to characterize the genetic potential of different dairy breeds and even in swine breeds in order to improve economic characteristics such as fertility, cheese yield or meat quality.

Among the fundamental mechanisms of early development, we want to focus on those associated with oogenesis. Thus, the oocyte, (which is the largest cell of the body) grows by mechanisms still little known because they are unique in cell biology. For example, in many species of birds, amphibians and large mammals, the first cell divisions occur in the absence of nuclear transcriptional activity. The first blastomeres do not transcribe their genome and the production of proteins is supported by messenger RNAs stored during oogenesis. This storage requires a specific management for the stabilization of “sleeping” messengers, for their recruitment and even for their destruction since a large number of these stored mRNAs will never be translated. From an applied point of view, these mechanisms are of interest since the great majority of the embryonic mortality (70%) is carried out before the period of activation of the embryonic genome.

Our recent work shows that cells around the oocyte send mRNAs along their cell projections and communicate with the oocyte. Our hypothesis is that in the absence of its own transcriptional abilities, the oocyte subcontracts its need to the cells that surround it. The advantage of this approach could be that the follicular cells are more closely related to the ovarian endocrine status than is the oocyte, thus making it possible to better synchronize the quality of the oocyte with the physiological condition of the ovarian follicle.

To study the mechanisms of RNA management, we use a candidate gene approach. We aim to deepen the knowledge of a family of proteins: members of the family of fragile-X mental retardation related proteins of which FMR1 is the main member. Although the mechanisms involved are not yet known, currently FMR1 is the leading marker of ovarian failure in humans.

Members of the laboratory

Clémence Picard, BSc
Master student

Malorie Trottier-Lavoie, BSc
Master student

Karen Nenonene, BSc
Master student

Karine Dubuc, BSc
Master student

Alexandra Carrier, MSc
PhD student

Pengmin Wang, MSc
PhD student

Alexandre Bastien, MSc
Research assistant

Isabelle Gilbert, PhD
Research assistant