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You are hereUNIL > Center for Integrative Genomics > Research > Research groups > Prof. Dion

Vincent Dion, SNF Professor

Vincent Dion received his PhD from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, USA) for his work on the interplay between trinucleotide repeat instability and DNA methylation under the supervision of John H. Wilson. From 2008 to 2013, he undertook postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Susan M. Gasser at the Friedrich Miescher Institute (Basel, Switzerland). There, he uncovered novel roles for chromatin remodeling enzymes, recombination factors, and for the DNA damage response in chromatin mobility. Vincent joined the CIG as a Swiss National Foundation Professor in October 2013.

Keywords: DNA repair, chromatin, genome stability, neurodegenerative diseases, nuclear organization.

Research summary

How chromatin impacts genome stability

DNA repair events need to be precisely choreographed so that lesions are accurately repaired and the integrity of the genome is maintained. Mutations in several DNA repair genes greatly increase cancer predisposition while malfunction of several caretakers of the genome lead to neurological disorders. These observations highlight the importance of maintaining genome stability for human health.

DNA is wrapped around histone octamers to form nucleosomes and higher-order chromatin structures, thereby efficiently packaging the genome into the cell nucleus. Chromatin additionally provides great opportunities for the regulation of DNA-based events since nucleosomes can mask the binding site of many DNA readers. This interplay between chromatin structure and function has been extensively studied in the context of transcription, but much less is known about its impact on DNA repair.

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To study how chromatin affects DNA repair events, our laboratory focuses on tandem repeats composed of pure stretches of CAG/CTG trinucleotides. These loci are hotspots for genome instability and the size of the repeat can expand greatly, in some cases reaching thousands of trinucleotides at a single locus. As the repeat tract gets longer, it becomes more unstable and adopts chromatin configurations that bear many of the hallmarks of dense heterochromatin. The instability depends primarily on an error-prone mechanism that remains elusive. These characteristics make trinucleotide repeats an ideal paradigm to explore the relationship between genome stability and chromatin structure at endogenous loci. To this end, we use a combination of high resolution fluorescence microscopy, molecular biology, genetics, and genomics in cultured human cells to identify new players in trinucleotide repeat instability and to study the effects of chromatin structure and organization on DNA repair.

Our research is especially relevant to human health since expanded trinucleotide repeats cause a number of neurological, neuromuscular, and neurodegenerative disorders. Examples of these diseases include Huntington disease, myotonic dystrophy, Fragile X syndrome, Friedreich Ataxia, as well as several spinocerebellar ataxias; all of which remain without a cure. A long term goal of our research is to understand the mechanism of trinucleotide repeat instability such that we can manipulate it at will and induce repeat contractions in patients. We hope that this would remove the underlying cause of the disease and provide a therapeutic avenue.

Publications

 
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Lorène Aeschbach obtained her CFC from the Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève in 2004. Before joining the lab as a technician in Dec of 2013, she worked at the CHUV and at the EPFL.

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Alicia Borgeaud obtained her bachelor of Biology at the University of Lausanne. She is currently a Master’s student. She did her First-step Master project in Microbiology but she is mainly interested in genetics. Beside her studies, she plays the flute and prepares a bachelor grade in music. In our Lab, she is studying the role of histone deacetylases in the expansion of trinucleotide repeats.

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Cinzia Cinesi obtained her Bachelor in Biology from the Università dell'Insubria in Varese in 2013, where she did her research thesis on Phylogenetic characterization of Salmo trutta macrostigma in SIC Monte Arcosu, in the lab of Serena Zaccara. After a First step Master’s project in the lab of Nouria Hernandez, she joined our group in Feb 2014 for her full Master’s research project. In March 2015, she stayed on as a PhD student.

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Vincent Dion received his PhD from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, USA) for his work on the interplay between trinucleotide repeat instability and DNA methylation under the supervision of John H. Wilson. From 2008 to 2013, he undertook postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Susan M. Gasser at the Friedrich Miescher Institute (Basel, Switzerland). There, he uncovered novel roles for chromatin remodeling enzymes, recombination factors, and for the DNA damage response in chromatin mobility. Vincent joined the CIG as a Swiss National Foundation Professor in October 2013.

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Oscar Rodríguez Lima obtained his PhD from National Autonomous University of Mexico under the supervision of Abraham Landa at the Medicine School. His thesis focused on the characterization of transcription factors and core promoter elements present in Taenia solium genes. He is huge fan of Song of Ice and Fire, Star Wars and Spiderman. He has been working on a joint project with the Stasiak lab since May 2016.

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Gustavo Ruiz Buendia did his undergraduate studies in Genomic Sciences at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. During that period, he spent a year in Cold Spring Harbor Lab in the group of David Spector, near the unparalleled NYC. After a Master’s in the lab, he has been a PhD student since Feb 2016. If he could go back in time, he would like to be a professional tennis player. Until that’s feasible, he’s delighted to investigate the wonderful world of nuclear organization!

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Bin Yang did her Master’s project in the Institute of Brain Science in Fudan University, Shanghai, China. During that time, she focused on the molecular mechanisms underlying nervous system development and behavior in the Zebrafish Danio rerio. On October 1st 2013, she joined the group as a PhD student. She is studying whether chromatin modifiers work locally at expanded trinucleotide repeats to affect instability.

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Paula Zganiacz obtained her Bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from University of Warsaw, Poland. She joined the group in February 2016 as a Master’s student. In collaboration with Keith Harshman she is working on a Next Generation Sequencing method to assess number of trinucleotide repeats in human genes.

 

Former lab members

Master Students:
Evgeniya Trofimenko – Feb. 2015 to Jan. 2016 – now a PhD student with Christian Widman (UNIL).

Undergraduate Students:
Waad Al-Bawardi – Jul. to Aug. 2014 – undergraduate at King Saud University (Saudi Arabia).

Other:
Antonia Feola – Visiting PhD student from Oct. to Dec. 2014 – PhD with Antonio Porcellini at the Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II (Italy) as of July 2015.
Marie Sgandurra – Research Assistant from Dec. 2013 to Jun. 2014 – now a technician with Liliane Michalik (UNIL)

Undergraduates wanting to spend time in the lab should first look up the SUR program whereas potential Master’s students are directed to the UNIL Master’s program.

Although there is no position currently open, we are always on the lookout for outstanding PhD students and Postdocs who have or can attract their own fellowships.

 

Guidelines to writing a cover letter (not just applicable to my lab)

- for prospective PhD and postdocs

The goal of a cover letter is to convince the group leader to open your CV. No more, no less. Consequently, you need to keep it short (~250 words or less) and to the point. People are more likely to read something short. Your letter must contain the answer to the following three questions:

  1. Why are you specifically interested in this particular lab? This has to be as precise as possible. Broad answers to this questions, for example stating that you are “interested in the lab’s research topic” or that you “want to join an outstanding institution”, are not compelling. Be specific. Why are you interested in our lab and not the lab next door? Why is the topic of the lab interesting to you? In other words, I want to know why you are applying to my lab as opposed to sending lots of letters to many people, hoping that something will stick.
  2. How is your experience relating to the topic of the lab? It is not a problem if your area of expertise is outside that of the lab – it can be an advantage. But then you will have to emphasize why you are applying, which brings you back to why you are interested in this particular lab. A common mistake is to repeat what is in your CV. It is not necessary, makes the cover letter longer, and generally does not help your case.
  3. What do you bring to the lab? This can be knowledge of a specific technique or field. Listing the techniques you are familiar with is similarly not helping you since you should have this in your CV. Another way of phrasing this question is “What makes you stand out and be particularly well suited to join the lab?”

Some more tips:

  • Make the letter personal and custom-tailored. Too often letters are written so that the topic and institution can be quickly changed and the letter can be sent out to a great number of labs with little effort from the sender. A good way to make the letter personal is to explain the research topic of the lab in your own words. You will have to do it well (and briefly), however, as it can backfire if not done properly. Do not copy and paste from the lab’s website or papers.
  • Writing a letter free of typos and grammatical mistakes is a good way to make a good first impression. Avoid overly flowery language (e.g., Dear Esteemed Sir) and using “Greetings” as an opening.
  • Start the letter with why you are writing. Often letters start with “I am So and So from University X”. This is superfluous information as it is at the bottom of the e-mail and/or in your CV.

Quality and care in a letter will take you time, but it will make an enormous difference: much fewer of your requests will go unanswered because you will have made it easy for the group leader. Remember that top labs want to hire passionate, motivated, and hard-working people. A well written letter should convey that you possess these qualities!

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Contact

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Vincent Dion

vincent.dion@unil.ch

Tel: +41 21 692 3901

 

Administrative assistant

Nathalie Clerc
nathalie.clerc@unil.ch
Tel: +41 21 692 3920

CH-1015 Lausanne  - Switzerland  -  Tel. +41 21 692 22 00  -  Fax +41 21 692 22 11
Swiss University