Troubled Pasteur gets new chief

Cell biologist Alice Dautry named new managing director

By | September 6, 2005

The Pasteur Institute, following a year of crisis, has named cell biologist Alice Dautry as its new managing director, and scientists are praising the choice. Dautry, trained as a solid-state physicist and a molecular biologist, was appointed for a six-year term on September 2.

"We are happy that the crisis in leadership is over," said Gerard Chaouat, a member of the National Union of Scientific Researchers and a director of research at Inserm's unit in Clamart, which works with scientists from the Institut Pasteur. "Everyone hopes that Dautry's appointment will help end the turbulence at the institute. Scientists expect a more open style of communication that will diffuse tension. But we reserve our judgement until we actually see Dautry's program."

Dautry was appointed by a two-thirds majority of the Pasteur board, who said in a press statement that they were certain that she would a "give fresh impetus" to the institute. Dautry, who has been at the institute since 1977, has already pledged to shelve plans to move staff to Fresnes, a site outside of Paris, a plan that led to the resignation of the entire board on January 12 as well as to the ouster of the previous managing director, Philippe Kourilsky, on June 27.

Under plans put forward by Kourilsky, about 250 of the 3,000 institute staff would have had to move to Fresnes while old laboratories in Paris were renovated or demolished.

Scientists are now waiting to see how Dautry will go about refurbishing the laboratories without moving out staff. "The laboratories are old and an inquiry has said that they do not conform to electrical safety regulations and must be updated," Chaouat told The Scientist. "We will see how Dautry plans to do this refurbishment without moving out scientists. We will see if she keeps her commitment."

Pierre Masson, the institute board president general secretary, also said that it was too early to say what Dautry would do. "She is a good scientist and popular but we are all waiting to see what her plans are," Masson told The Scientist. "It is still not completely clear to me why Kourilsky had to go. Some said he was authoritarian but I did not think he was. Many people praised his strategy and I expect some of his main strategic decisions to be followed."

Kourilsky shifted the focus towards applied research, strengthened links with private enterprise, and tried to bring in more young scientists from abroad in a bid to add dynamism to the institute that is struggling in an increasingly competitive international scientific environment. However, his abrasive style came under fire from some scientists.

Chaouat said the mission of the institute was to do basic research. "Of course, we have links with private enterprise but we are a public service institute," he said. "The previous director was more devoted to private enterprise, but we are here mainly for basic research. To achieve excellence, it is crucial we get enough funds from the government and this is not easy in the current climate in France."

A Pasteur press officer said Dautry, who is in the process of forming her team, would not be commenting to the press yet. Her most recent scientific publications include papers on ubiquitination and molecular mechanisms of bacterial invasion.

Stewart Cole, a director of scientific affairs at the institute, has been appointed an interim managing director until Dautry officially takes up her new position on October 1.

Popular Now

  1. Thousands of Mutations Accumulate in the Human Brain Over a Lifetime
  2. Two Dozen House Republicans Do an About-Face on Tuition Tax
  3. Putative Gay Genes Identified, Questioned
    The Nutshell Putative Gay Genes Identified, Questioned

    A genomic interrogation of homosexuality turns up speculative links between genetic elements and sexual orientation, but researchers say the study is too small to be significant. 

  4. Can Young Stem Cells Make Older People Stronger?