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Feature - Bioinformatics from Martinique to Marseilles: Mirana Ramialison

From Martinique to Marseilles to Medaka: profile of bioinformatician Mirana Ramialison

The Medaka fish is a simple model organism, amenable to genetic techniques, easily grown in the lab, but at the same time sharing many molecular processes with higher vertebrates. This image, taken with a newly developed microscope called a Digital Scanned Laser Light Sheet Fluorescence Microscope, shows a 5mm-long juvenile at the age of 10 days. The glowing green areas show its developing brain, eye and spinal cord. Image by Philipp Keller, from the lab of Ernst Stelzer at EMBL

Editor's note: As part of an ongoing series, iSGTW presents profiles of women researchers in grid computing.

What do you do?

In our research group, led by Jochen Wittbrodt of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Germany, we are studying Medaka (alias "the-small-fish-with-big-eyes" in Japanese) to understand how an eye forms in an embryo. Since Medaka eyes are similar to human ones, we can have a better understanding of human eye diseases resulting from malformations. When you look at Medaka transparent eggs under the microscope, you can see the eye developing "live."

How does computation fit into this?

My PhD work is not restricted to the eye only, but aims to understand which genes are essential for the formation of all organs, such at the eye, brain, ears, etcera. Therefore, I went to Kyoto to collect information about Medaka genes (more than 20,000) and built a database to store it. As it is impossible to study so many genes at once - it can take a whole career to study the function of just one - I have written computer programs to predict and analyze their function. I also do experiments to validate if the predictions of my programs are correct or if they are telling me complete nonsense - which is more often the case, I have to admit, and that's why a PhD always takes more than 3 years!

Luckily before the PhD, I graduated from an engineering school where I learned bioinformatics techniques that allow the analysis of thousands of genes at a time. During high school, I enjoyed biology and mathematics a lot, and bioinformatics is somewhere in between these two fields.

Which subjects did you enjoy in school?

I remember at primary school, I was so impatient to go to school on Saturday mornings, because that was the day we were allowed to play with computers! (No, I'm not a geek.) During high school, I enjoyed both biology and mathematics a lot, so it was not easy to decide which field to follow.

How did your career progress?

I started to study biology at the University of Grenoble, and then graduated from an engineering school in biotechnologies in Marseilles, where I learned bioinformatics. This was by far my favorite subject, since it required computer science and a knowledge of biology, so I didn't need to choose between them anymore!

Ramialson says: "Being born on one island, Madagascar, and grown up on another island, Martinique, somehow it must have been my fate to work with fish. And my fish of choice is Medaka, a small freshwater fish from yet another island: Japan." Image courtesy of Miran Ramialison

What's the best thing about your job?

What I like most about my work is the independence to follow your own ideas and organize your research, and the opportunity to travel a lot. In research, you have to go abroad to advertise your work, and be aware of what scientists are doing in other labs around the world.

During my PhD, I enjoyed attending conferences in Italy, the UK, the USA and Japan. But I have to admit that when I am back in Germany, where the winters are not exactly warm, I am very happy to see my little Medaka again, which are happily swimming in aquariums where the water temperature is a tropical 25°C.

But when I am not in the fishroom or at my computer, I practice Japanese and I also take German courses. I enjoy cooking different type of food (Malagasy and Creole for instance) but most of all, I love dancing hip-hop, salsa and zouk - typical music from the French Caribbean.

- Dan Drollette, iSGTW. Excerpts courtesy SET-Routes School Ambassadors. Click here to read Ramialison's profile in French.

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