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Giulio Superti-Furga

Giulio Superti-Furga was among the IMP's first PhD students. Working in the lab of Meinrad Busslinger, he became a true pioneers - a role he resumed recently as the founding scientific director of the Research Center for Molecular Medicine (CeMM) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Giulio Superti-Furga was born and raised in Milan and went to do his university studies in Zurich in 1981. Zurich was then, with two very active Institutes for Molecular Biology founded in the late sixties by Charles Weissmann and Max Birnstiel, one of the most important centres for molecular biology research in continental Europe.

In those days, the groups around Weissmann, Schaffner and Birnstiel and their junior group leaders, among whom Meinrad Busslinger, were discovering basic mechanisms of mammalian gene expression (role of promoters, enhancers, 3’ processing of mRNA etc.).

When the IMP was founded, Giulio followed Max Birnstiel and Meinrad Busslinger to Vienna. In fact, because the IMP building did not exist yet, Giulio followed Meinrad to a one-year sabbatical to Dave Goeddel’s laboratory at Genentech, Inc., South San Francisco. Genentech was not only the first and arguably most prominent biotech company but was also a partner of Boehringer Ingelheim in the founding of the IMP. Giulio was then the only PhD student.

The early days of the IMP

“Coming to Vienna to the brand-new IMP was an exhilarating experience”, says Giulio. He had most of the data for his PhD already and could put a lot of energy into the new institute. For example, he helped turn the student space he had co-designed into the centre of social life at the IMP (it turned out to be called Joe’s disco because the craftsman who made the sign could not spell Giulio).

My choice to do my postdoctoral studies on cell-cycle at the EMBL was a clear consequence of the IMP ‘imprinting’.

Giulio Superti-Furga

Giulio remembers: “Most of the PhD students, postdocs and faculty would gather there to watch ‘Falcon Crest’ at 5 pm to then go back and work for more hours to end the day back in Joe’s disco with beer. I was then working on an inducible system for the Fos protein. It was very interesting for me to get not only input from oncogene experts such as Erwin Wagner and Hartmut Beug, but also get severely exposed to cell-cycle research and epigenetic research. My choice to do my postdoctoral studies on cell-cycle at the EMBL was a clear consequence of the IMP ‘imprinting’.”

Moving on

After his diploma and PhD with Meinrad, Giulio was a Postdoc and Team Leader at EMBL until 2004. For several years he served as visiting professor of Biotechnology at the University of Bologna.

In 2000, he co-founded the biotech company Cellzome Inc., where he was Scientific Director and responsible for the Heidelberg research site. His most significant scientific contributions are the elucidation of basic regulatory mechanisms of tyrosine kinases in human cancers and the discovery of fundamental organization principles of the proteome of higher organisms.

Giulio Superti-Furga is now Scientific Director and CEO of CeMM, the Research Center of Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, a sister institute to IMBA and GMI. He is also Visiting Professor at the Medical University of Vienna.

Giulio is an EMBO member and a corresponding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. His ground-breaking work on the organization of the yeast proteome is the most highly cited proteome paper world-wide and one of the all-time top 10 papers in biology as ranked by the faculty of 1000.

Research Interests

Biology relies on the concerted action of a number of molecular interactions of gene products and metabolites operationally organized in molecular machines, molecular pathways and in yet larger molecular networks.

Currently, Giulio Superti-Furga and his team are interested in: (i) The principles behind these supermolecular organisation levels (whole proteome organisation, prototypic pathways, selected complexes and molecular machines), (ii) the study of molecular context, pathways and networks to understand specific human pathologies and guide novel diagnostic and therapeutic initiatives, (iii) the elucidation and prediction of the molecular mechanism of action of known and novel therapeutics using post-genomic approaches.

The not-so secret and admittedly highly immodest ambition of the CeMM is to succeed into catalysing a similar process of coalescence and inspiration to the medical research community in the 9th Viennese district as the IMP/IMBA/GMI have so successfully done for the entire basic molecular biology scene over the last two decades. At the same time, CeMM considers itself a bridge between the medical and clinical research community at the Medical University/General Hospital and the fundamental biomedical research community at the Vienna Biocenter.

By Heidemarie Hurtl, Giulio Superti-Furga – first published in 2007.