Lucas Pelkmans

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Quantitative cell biology, cell-to-cell variability, and systems biology
Our lab operates at the forefront of research in quantitative cell biology, in the study of cell-to-cell variability, as well as in systems approaches based on large- scale genetic perturbations and network biology. Over the years, we have made groundbreaking discoveries in virus entry, endocytosis, and the assembly of caveolae. We pioneered multi-parametric image-based RNAi screens in mammalian cells, we were the first to reveal that cell-to-cell variability in human cells is largely predictable, we have defined a novel type of regulatory genetic interaction and mapped these in the endocytic membrane system, and we invented image-based transcriptomics. We have also uncovered a novel principle by which a kinase couples liquid phase transitions in the cytoplasm to signal transduction, and identified a cell-intrinsic molecular mechanism by which cells adapt their lipid composition to local crowding, driving variability in single- cell behavior and pattern formation in cell populations. We are highly motivated to stay at the forefront of these fields by developing new computational and single- cell methods and by combining unbiased data-driven research with reductionist approaches in innovative ways.


2010-now:Full Professor and Ernst Hadorn Chair, University of Zurich
2005-2010:Assistant Professor, Institute of Molecular Systems Biology, ETH Zurich
2003-2005:Postdoctoral fellow, Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden (Lab of Marino Zerial)
1999-2003:Ph.D., Institute of Biochemistry, ETH Zurich (Lab of Ari Helenius)
1993-1999:B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Medical Biology, University of Utrecht.

Honours and Awards

  • Member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation EMBO (2015)
  • SNSF Consolidator Grant (2015)
  • Chairman of the Swiss Initiative in Systems Biology (2013)
  • Ernst Hadorn Foundation-endowed Chair (2010)
  • MIT Top-35 world’s leading innovators under 35 (2008)
  • European Young Investigator Award (2005)
  • ETH Medal (2003)

Selected papers

  1. Control of transcript variability in single mammalian cells. Battich et al., Cell (2015)
  2. Cell-intrinsic adaptation of lipid composition to local crowding drives social behaviour. Frechin et al., Nature (2015)
  3. A hierarchical map of regulatory genetic interactions in membrane trafficking. Liberali et al., Cell (2014)
  4. Dual specificity kinase DYRK3 couples stress granule condensation/dissolution to mTORC1 signaling. Wippich et al., Cell (2013)
  5. Using cell-to-cell variability – A new era in molecular biology. Pelkmans. Science (2012)