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Dr. Daniela Verga heads a new team specializing in designing molecules to target DNA and RNA structures


Focus on the new research team 'Targeting of Nucleic Acids and Photolabelling Approaches' headed by Dr. Daniela Verga at Institut Curie, on the Orsay site.

Le Dr Daniela Verga prend la tête d’une nouvelle équipe de recherche à Orsay

Working at Institut Curie since 2015 as a CNRS research fellow, Dr. Daniela Verga recently set up her team within the Chemistry and Modeling for Biology of Cancer unit (CNRS UMR9187 / Inserm U1196 / Université Paris-Saclay) headed by Dr. Florence Mahuteau-Betzer, on the Orsay site. The goal? To clarify the role of a particular DNA and RNA structure, called G-quadruplex, with compounds it is developing, for a better understanding of its involvement in the biological processes involved in the development of diseases such as cancer.

Can you remind us of your background?

Dr. Daniela Verga: I began my academic career in my native Italy, where I completed a thesis in organic chemistry at the University of Pavia under the supervision of Prof. Mauro Freccero. During my thesis, I was able to specialize in photochemistry for biological applications by joining Prof. Gary B. Schuster's laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the USA. There, I developed molecules capable of targeting DNA, enabling me to study the alterations generated by the effect of light. In 2011, I joined Dr. Marie-Paule Teulade-Fichou's team, Drugs and Probes for Nucleix Acids Secondary Structures (CNRS UMR9187 / Inserm U1196 / Université Paris-Saclay), at Institut Curie. Together, we designed photoactivatable molecules that bind specifically and permanently to G-quadruplex, a particular DNA and RNA structure involved in the regulation of gene expression and other biological processes.

After 2 years, I joined Prof. Andreas Marx’s laboratory, specialized in nucleic acid synthesis chemistry and chemical biology, at the University of Konstanz in Germany. This allowed me to deepen my knowledge of DNA biochemistry and biology.

At the end of my post-doc in 2015, I finally returned to Dr. Marie-Paule Teulade-Fichou's team as a CNRS research fellow.


Since then, how has your work evolved?

Dr. Daniela Verga: To date, my work has focused mainly on the development of ligands[1] capable of targeting G-quadruplexes (G4) in DNA and RNA: I'm studying their interaction with these structures, as well as their ability to modulate the functions of proteins involved in their regulation. I'm also developing biophysical methods to explore the sequences capable of forming these structures, combining in vitro approaches and, very soon, molecular modeling.

In my new team, called Targeting of Nucleic Acids and Photolabelling Approaches (CNRS UMR9187 / Inserm U1196 / Université Paris-Saclay), I am pursuing this work by adapting previously developed ligands to explore the complex mechanisms in which they are involved. I am also interested in biological processes such as splicing[2], with the aim of contributing to a better understanding of fundamental cellular processes and their role in health and disease.


How does Institut Curie support the pursuit of your projects?

Dr. Daniela Verga: My work is very much at the interface between chemistry, biochemistry, biology and biophysics. It's a daily challenge that requires access to a variety of equipment and collaboration with experts in different fields. At Institut Curie, all this is possible thanks to the omnipresent interdisciplinary approach. For exemple, Dr. Reini Luco is a team leader in the Genome Integrity, RNA and Cancer research unit (CNRS UMR3348 / Université Paris-Saclay) and a specialist in splicing, with whom I hope to develop new projects. I've been working at Institut Curie for 8 years, and I feel I've found the right environment here to take my research to the next level.


[1] Small molecules that bind specifically to a biological target

[2] Process by which RNAs transcribed from DNA can undergo cutting and ligation steps that lead to the elimination of certain regions in the final RNA.