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Denis Duboule and the Homeotic Genes
by staff
17 July 2014

An interview with the Professor of Developmental Genetics and Genomics at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and at the University of Geneva (Switzerland)

"Research is not technology. Research is passion, sense for craftsmanship”, according to Denis Duboule, Professor of Developmental Genetics and Genomics at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and the University of Geneva. As he claims, indeed, the essential qualities of a “properly done” scientific research are “a good perception of what is important, a lot of perseverance and a certain esthetics in what you do”.
After his undergraduate studies in biology, which were focused on mouse embryology at the University of Geneva, Denis Duboule carried out his research activity across several scientific centers all-over Europe. In particular, his experience as post-doctoral fellow in Strasbourg constituted the beginning of a lifetime research interest for the characterization of the vertebrate Homeotic (Hox) genes, a group of related genes controlling the embryo body plan. After cloning the first large vertebrate Hox gene cluster, Duboule’s laboratory reported that the Hox gene system was globally conserved between vertebrates and invertebrates. This result suggests that all animals, from Drosophilas to humans, were built on the same general body plan: a significant paradigm shift, although, as Duboule claims, “the most important result is always the one to come next”. Currently, the long-range regulation of Hox genes constitutes the major focus of Duboule's group.
Duboule could be considered one with his research. Outside the laboratory, he is actively involved in the communication of science, through numerous TV and radio programs as well as chronicles in newspapers: “communication to the public is a complicated task and cannot be done on a casual basis”, he stated. This is because being a researcher for Denis Duboule is: "neither an occupation, nor a job. It is a way of living”.
You are invited to follow the interview with Denis Duboule to find out an overview of his scientific achievements and perspectives.

Giuseppina Gangemi, Chiara Mossali, Aida Paniccia, Paola Todeschini for ABCD


  • Gaunt SJ, Miller JR, Powell DJ, Duboule D. 1986. Homoeobox gene expression in mouse embryos varies with position by the primitive streak stage. Nature 324:662-664. (PMID: 2879244)
  • Dollé P, Izpisúa-Belmonte JC, Falkenstein H, Renucci A, Duboule D. 1989. Coordinate expression of the murine Hox-5 complex homoeobox-containing genes during limb pattern formation. Nature 342:767-772. (PMID: 2574828)
  • Dollé P, Dierich A, LeMeur M, Schimmang T, Schuhbaur B, Chambon P, Duboule D. 1993. Disruption of the Hoxd-13 gene induces localized heterochrony leading to mice with neotenic limbs. Cell 75:434-441. (PMID: 8106170)
  • Kmita M, Tarchini B, Zàkàny J, Logan M, Tabin CJ, Duboule D. 2005. Early developmental arrest of mammalian limbs lacking HoxA/HoxD gene function. Nature 435:1113-1116. (PMID: 15973411)
  • Andrey G, Montavon T, Mascrez B, Gonzalez F, Noordermeer D, Leleu M, Trono D, Spitz F, Duboule D. 2013. A switch between topological domains underlies collinearity in mouse limbs. Science 340:1234167. (PMID: 23744951)

Host Institute

The ABCD lecture by Denis Duboule has been hosted by Gabriella Minchiotti at the CNR Institute of Genetics and Biophysics “A. Buzzati-Traverso” (IGB). The Institute, directed by Prof. Antonio Simeone, is the largest research institute of the CNR Campus of Via Pietro Castellino in Naples, which hosts other prime biomedical research entities that altogether contribute to make this Campus a very attractive environment for biomedical research, as well as for training young scientists. The IGB hosts a broad variety of well-advanced technological platforms and resources/services to support competitive research programmes in the field of human genetics, developmental biology and stem cells (consult