Francesca was born in Mestre, near Venice (Italy). She studied Biology, and she graduated from the University of Padova (Italy). For her PhD, Francesca moved to Cologne in Germany where she worked with Siegfried Roth on the establishment of the dorsoventral and anteroposterior polarity in Drosophila. After obtaining her PhD in 2001, she joined the lab of Christiane Nuesslein-Volhard at the Max-Plank Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen (Germany). During her postdoc, she started working on how microglia, the brain immune cells, engulf and digest dying neurons using zebrafish. In 2008 Francesca became a group leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg. She received an ERC Starting grant in 2010 and her lab continued exploiting the massive imaging potential of the transparent fish embryo to investigate microglia and their interaction with neurons. Since 2018 Francesca is a Full Professor at the University of Zürich.
When she is not in the lab, Francesca enjoys spending time with her family. She loves reading, cooking and travelling.
Why did you choose to become a scientist?
As a student at the University of Padua, I received an ERASMUS fellowship, and I spent one year in Paris. For the first time, I worked in a lab. For me, this was an incredible revelation. I found my passion, and since that moment, I didn't stop loving science. I did my PhD in the lab of Siegfried Roth at the University of Cologne to study signaling in Drosophila ovaries. As a postdoc, I joined the laboratory of Nobel laureate Christiane "Janni" Nüsslein-Volhard at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, working with the transparent zebrafish. With Nüsslein-Volhard's encouragement, I investigated macrophages that crawl into the developing brain to become the microglia that gobble up dying neurons during development and after injury. The journey has been incredible!
What do you like about your work?
I remember the first time I actually saw macrophages live under the microscope. It was incredible. These cells move faster than any other cells. And in the brain, they are full of neurons, because they actually eat, or engulf these cells to keep the brain "clean" and "functional". This led to many different questions and experiments. Today I am lucky to still be working on a topic that keeps fascinating me. Life in the lab can be challenging, but it is fun and sometimes very rewarding.
What motivates you to get up every morning?
Many things, the next experiment, a possible discovery, working on a paper and knowing that at the end of the day, I will be with my family.
Who inspired you in your career path?
One person, in particular, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, my postdoc supervisor. An incredible visionary scientist who encouraged me to always think big.
Have you experienced dry periods or failure in your career? How did you overcome them?
Yes, of course. Experiments that didn't t go as I would have hoped. Papers that got rejected, but I am an optimist, and when things go wrong, I always think, "tomorrow it will be better". Sometimes I'm right…
What tips would you offer a young researcher who is considering an academic career?
Think big and dream even bigger!
|01.01.2018||Full Professor, MLS, UZH, Switzerland|
|2008-2017||Group Leader at EMBL, Heidelberg, Germany|
|2002-2007||Postdoctoral research at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen, Germany|
|1997||PhD, University of Cologne, Germany|
|Studies in Genetics, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, University of Padua, Italy|