The molecular biologist Fran Supek (born Zagreb, Croatia, 1981) moved to IRB Barcelona in 2017 to lead the Genome Data Science group. His research addresses various biological questions by statistical analysis of large databases derived from cancer, human populations, and the sequencing of environmental DNA and microbial genomes.
His lab works on comparing the genetic sequences of individuals, including human tumours and healthy cells, with the aim to identify why and how mutations occur.
“Cells take great care to protect the parts of the genome that are most important to them – the ones which contain many active genes. To keep the body working properly, they use a kind of a spellchecker to try to reverse some of the mistakes that happen when they copy their DNA,” explains Supek.
However, even after corrections, some errors still remain and these can give rise to mutations that can cause cancer or that contribute to ageing. Moreover, the ‘DNA spellchecker’ can sometimes break down and even introduce new mutations instead of fixing them.
In this regard, Supek is fascinated by the amount of insights that can be obtained about cell function from simply observing genomes: “The availability of genomic data has the potential to vastly advance our understanding of biomedicine. We hope to be able to make the medicine of the future take better decisions about how people should be treated and thereby improve their health”.
Skill, challenge and fun
For Supek, doing research is a bit like solving a Rubik’s cube. “It is a complicated puzzle that requires many steps to solve. To a person looking from the outside, it looks like not much is going on for a long while, but then all of a sudden the colours pop into place – as if it was solved almost by magic. But for the magic to happen, behind the scenes it requires being methodical and focussed and this what I think science is like as well. Doing research is quite challenging, but for me it is also a lot of fun,” he concludes.
"Meet Our Scientists" is a series of short videos presenting the leaders of the research at IRB Barcelona. The main objective of the series is to show the vision, passion, character and talent of the scientists working at the centre, as well as to disseminate biomedicine.
This video has been made with the support of the Spanish Foundation of Science and Technology (FECYT) and the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.
About IRB Barcelona
Created in 2005 by the Generalitat de Catalunya (Government of Catalonia) and University of Barcelona, IRB Barcelona is a Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence, a seal that was awarded in 2011. The institute is devoted to conducting research of excellence in biomedicine and to transferring results to clinical practice, thus improving people’s quality of life, while simultaneously promoting the training of outstanding researchers, technology transfer, and public communication of science. Its 28 laboratories and eight core facilities address basic questions in biology and are orientated to diseases such as cancer, metastasis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and rare conditions. IRB Barcelona is an international centre that hosts 400 employees and more than 30 nationalities. It is located in the Barcelona Science Park. IRB Barcelona is a CERCA center, and a member of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST).