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DEPE | Stratégie scientifique » Ethologie et Physiologie Evolutive (EPE) » François Criscuolo

François Criscuolo

Diversity of ageing rates : role of telomeres and mitochondria in life history trade-offs.

Researcher (CR1) at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique


Twitter : @telfcriscuolo

  Research

I am an ecophysiologist interested in evolutionary biology. Understanding how the process of ageing differ between individuals, influencing performance and lifespan, remains a corner-stone question in evolutionary biology. The main goal of my research is to contribute to a better understanding of the origin of the great diversity of ageing rates, by trying to uncover the evolved mechanisms (i.e. molecular, cellular and physiological) that shape the life-history trade-offs in different environments. To do so, I develop an approach at the crossroads between physiology and molecular biology, measuring of telomere length to assess ageing rates as an output of individual life-history trade-offs in contrasting environments. Together with an engineer from the University of Strasbourg, Sandrine Zahn, we created a molecular biology laboratory devoted to quantitative PCR (Biologie moléculaire), in particular applied to telomere length measurements. Based on scientific collaborations and using different animal models, I try to determine the nature of the factors explaining among individual variation in ageing rates (telomere erosion) and the consequences of ageing-rate variation on individual fitness (reproduction and survival). My work has mostly focused on birds, but I am keen in using any animal model system that may produce interesting data explaining individual ageing variation. This may apply to any organism characterized by a particular life history and/or ageing pattern. In the last few years, I realized that social species which provide specific answers to environmental challenges, are interesting models to assess how rates of ageing have co-evolved with sociality.

Ageing is a complex, multi-factorial, process that is highly variable, both at the inter-specific and at the inter-individual level. In addition to telomere erosion rates, my approach also considers other mechanisms involved in cellular ageing (i.e. mitochondrial functioning, cell signaling) to determine how they vary among species with different lifespans (comparative approach), or among individuals from the same species faced with different life trajectories (experimental approach). In collaboration with other researchers from the IPHC and the University of Strasbourg, I started in 2015 to develop proteomic and genomic approaches to study those pathways in non-laboratory species.

  Research themes

  • Evolutionary biology of ageing
  • Ecophysiology
  • Molecular biology
  • Bio-energetics

My work is currently organized following four main research questions using group-living animals, ranging birds, mammals and ants as model systems.

WP1 : Are telomere dynamics and other ageing-related pathways indicating individual performances and fitness ? Here I try to tackle a tricky question : can we, by measuring a cell mechanism often only in blood cells, explain inter-individual differences in reproduction (which encompasses also sexual signalling, mate choice…), health (with several physiological parameters like immunity, glucose metabolism…), and longevity.

WP2 : How are telomere lengths inherited and what are the consequences for the next generations ? This research theme questions the pattern of telomere length inheritance, its consequence for offspring phenotype and the evolutionary consequences at a population level.

WP3 : In how far does sociality influence specific ageing pathways ? Together with PEB researchers, this research theme focuses on 1. Determining whether ageing patterns are modified by the evolution of sociality, and 2. Whether different social categories within single species express mechanisms against aging differently, which may explain individual differences in life history trade-offs and lifespan.
WP4 : Are we correctly assessing telomere dynamics ? In the Ageing lab, we are currently using qPCR to measure telomere length in multiple species. Together with head-engineer Sandrine Zahn, we are developing complementary methods (TRF) and assessing other components involved in telomere dynamics such as telomerase activity and protein expression.

  Study systems

I do not focus on a particular model to address the above questions, even if I have worked mainly on birds. The model systems described below all have an interesting particularity to study ageing :

Telomere and evolution project

 
This is the main part of my research, were I try to determine, using life history and experimental approaches, how telomere length is related to fitness traits, including inter-generational traits.

Telomere and evolution project

This is the main part of my research, were I try to determine using life history (in the wild) and experimental (in the wild and in captivity) approaches how telomere length is related to fitness traits, including inter-generational traits. To do so, I am using different animal models, the main being the Alpine swift (Apus melba) with access 20-years old records provided by Dr P Bize. Other interesting collaborations on passerine birds will start in 2017-2018.

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Main collaborators : P Bize (University of Aberdeen), B Heidinger (University of Fargo), B Warren (MNHN Paris).

Ants, Columbian ground squirrels and stripped mice

 
Those rodents and insects provide me with an access to a continuum of social organization, from solitary living to eusociality, and plasticity of social behaviour within each of the study species.

Ants, Columbian ground squirrels and stripped mice

Those rodents and insects provide me with an access to a continuum of social organization, from solitary living to eusociality, and plasticity of social behaviour within each of the study species. Using ants in captivity and data from long-term studies on free living rodents, I use a powerful design to address how sociality influences ageing, and how ageing is modulating social organization.

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Main collaborators : C Sueur, C Schradin, VA Viblanc, P Uhlrich, S Zahn and M Quque (IPHC-CNRS UMR 7178), FS Dobson (Auburn University), R Boonstra (University of Toronto).

Maternal effects

 
Addressing inter-generational effects is more powerfully done using experimental approaches to modify maternal investment or mother-offspring relationships.

Maternal effects

Addressing inter-generational effects is more powerfully done using experimental approaches to modify maternal investment or mother-offspring relationships. To do this, I mainly work on a captive colony of zebra finches. I am also working on free living starlings were a population is followed on the campus of the Simon Fraser University, Canada. Maternal influences on offspring (ageing) phenotype will also be tackled in ground squirrels accounting for social factors in this species.

Main collaborators : TD Williams (Simon Fraser University), FS Dobson (Auburn University), VA Viblanc, J Bleu (IPHC-CNRS UMR 7178).

Why spending time and money on these questions ?

Why should we study mechanisms of senescence and life history trade-offs in birds ? What is the point of doing fundamental research on a subject that is so far from human medicine, with seemingly no link with animal conservation or global changes ? These are the main questions that either non-scientific people or medical biologists keep asking me. My answer is this : think about the fundamental knowledge that science has brought to light in our modern day societies. Think about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by means of Natural Selection. It is a fundamental topic which has changed human society like a revolution in our understanding of human origins, in the mechanisms by which life is changing through ages and with our relation to religion. Darwin has been able to propose his amazing theory because ideas have accumulated since several decades before he matured them in a global scheme. He was the right person in the right place at the right moment who, because of a particular talent, had brilliantly assemble grains of sand to build up a castle that will stand and will be remembered for ages. I hope to be one of these grains of sand.

  Students, main collaborators and previous group members

My philosophy is to work with people and for people. My research is developed within a framework of collaborations within the PEB team, the DEPE, the IPHC and outside the research unit. This allows synergy among interests of scientists who do not always have the same way of thinking, which is highly stimulating. I am currently supervising one PhD student, have supervised 4 PhDs in the past, and around 20 Master students.

Present PhD

  • Martin Quque (2017-) Coevolution of sociality and ageing in ants. Université de Strasbourg.

Previous PhD

  • Sylvie Geiger (2008-2010) Reversibilité d’une dénutrition severe : consequences pour la rehabilitation des oiseaux mazoutés. Université de Strasbourg. Actuellement : Vétérinaire en exercice
  • Antoine Stier (2010-2013) Mitochondrial uncoupling and life history trade-offs. Université de Strasbourg, Co-direction Sylvie Massemin. Actuellement : Bourse Postdoctorale Marie-Curie, Université de Glasgow. Prix de thèse de la Société de Biologie de Strasbourg 2014. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Antoine_Stier
  • Sophie Reichert (2010-2013) Telomere dynamics and fitness related-traits in birds. Université de Strasbourg, Co-direction Sylvie Massemin. Actuellement : Bourse Postdoctorale Marie-Curie, Université de Turku. Prix de thèse de l’Université de Strasbourg 2014. https://www.researchgate/ profile/Sophie_Reichert
  • Edith Grosbellet (2011-2014) Circadian rhythms and oxidative stress in mammals. Université de Strasbourg, Co-direction Etienne Challet. Actuellement : Enseignante en Californie

  Collaborations

Within the IPHC :

NOUVEAU : en 2017 François Criscuolo lance le projet Chouette Chevêche, qui unit science fondamentale et préservation des espèces. Grâce à des mesures spécifiques sur l’ADN, il permettra bientôt aux bénévoles de la Ligue de protection des oiseaux (LPO) d’en savoir plus sur l’état de santé de la population de chevêches et d’optimiser sur des critères scientifiques les actions de préservation de ce petit rapace en Alsace.

 » pour en savoir plus et participer au projet : www.iphc.cnrs.fr/chouette-cheveche

  Recent Publications

  1. Criscuolo F, Smith S, Zahn S, Heidinger BJ, and Haussmann MF (2017) Experimental manipulation of telomere length : does it reveal a corner-stone role for telomerase in the natural variability of individual fitness ? Philosophical Transactions Royal Society B.
  2. Criscuolo F, Zahn S and Bize P (2017) Offspring telomere length in the long lived Alpine swift is negatively related to the age of their biological father and foster mother. Biology Letters, 13(9), 20170188.

Full list : Publications récentes
Older publication : Autres publications

  Institutional Coverage

  Short CV

2013-2017 Head of the DEPE IPHC
2008- Researcher (CR1-CNRS) IPHC
2006-2008 Post-Doctoral fellow University of Glasgow
2003-2006 Post-Doctoral fellow Necker hospital, Paris
2001-2003 Post-Doctoral Fellow CEPE
1998-2001 PhD CEPE, University of Lyon 1
1997 MSc University of Lyon 1
1995 BASc University of Strasbourg
Academic Editor Frontiers in Behavioural and Evolutionary
Ecology and in PLOS One since 2013

  Work Address

CNRS - University of Strasbourg,
Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien
Département Ecologie, Physiologie & Ethologie
23 rue Becquerel
67087 Strasbourg Cedex 2 France
Phone : +33 (0) 388 106 950
Fax : +33 (0) 388 106 906
e-mail :