The information below refers to the time of the award.
Pascale COSSART is a professor at the Pasteur Institute, where she heads the Inserm/INRA ‘Bacteria-Cell Interactions’ Unit and directs the Department of Cell Biology and Infection. She is a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), of the French Académie des Sciences, of the German Academy Leopoldina and of the American Academy of Microbiology. She has already received numerous distinctions, in particular the Richard Lounsbery Award by the American National Academy of Science and the French Académie des Sciences, the L’OREAL-UNESCO Award for Women in Science, the Louis Pasteur gold Medal of the Swedish Medical Society and, in 2007, the Robert Koch Prize. In 2000, she became an International Research Scholar of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The bacterium Listeria monocytogenes may contaminate food products and is the cause of a serious foodborne infection, listeriosis, which is fatal in 30% of cases. Until 1986 the disease was poorly understood; PASCALE COSSART was one of the first to study it in detail, by combining a variety of innovative approaches.
The biologist showed in particular how Listeria penetrates cells, moves inside cells and subsequently spreads throughout the organism after having crossed the intestinal barrier. She also identified the main virulence factors of this bacterium and clarified their roles during the infection. She highlighted the molecular basis of the species specificity of this pathogen using a humanized transgenic mouse. Her work on Listeria has become a model and a reference for the study of other pathogenic agents.
Furthermore in 2001, PASCALE COSSART coordinated the process of decrypting theListeria monocytogenes genome, as well as that of its inoffensive ‘cousin’ – Listeria innocua. Comparing these two genomes not only allows better focus on the genes responsible for the pathogenic character of the listeriosis agent, but also improves our understanding of its formidable capacity to adapt to all kinds of environments.
This research opens the way for designing and developing new therapeutic tools, not only against listeriosis, but also against other infectious diseases.