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A great loss

September 11, 2020
I and my colleagues who knew Paolo were shocked at his untimely death.  He was a giant in science, an amazing achiever.  One of his great strengths was to see into the future, to see how current technology will evolve, and how  and where he could use it to address the next challenge.  i had the privilege of collaboration with him over a stretch of years, beginning with six months in his laboratory.  Together we published novel studies that have since been well cited and recognized.  His demise is a great loss to science and to the research community.  

My condolences to his family, particularly Emiliana. 
Bruce Murphy

Hommage à Paolo Sassone-Corsi

September 6, 2020
©Cécile Egly
27 juillet 2020
Vendredi 24 juillet matin nous avons appris avec tristesse le décès de Paolo Sassone-Corsi, pionnier de l’exploration des rythmes circadiens et de leur influence sur l’expression des gènes et sur le métabolisme. Nous garderons de lui le souvenir d’un chercheur d’exception, original dans ses démarches, pointu dans ses analyses et tellement passionnant à écouter quand il en parlait. Ciao Paolo.
Né à Naples en 1956, il fait ses études supérieures à l’Université Federico II puis rejoint en 1979, le laboratoire de Pierre Chambon, à Strasbourg pour un premier stage postdoctoral sur la régulation de la transcription. Il intègre le CNRS en 1984 mais part ensuite à San Diego pour travailler dans le laboratoire d'Inder Verma, où il fait ses premières armes sur les facteurs de transcriptions. En 1989, il revient à Strasbourg comme responsable d'une équipe de recherche à l'Institut de génétique et de biologie moléculaire et cellulaire (IGBMC). Il va alors écrire quelques très belles pages de l’histoire de cet institut et fait énormément progresser la compréhension du phénomène des rythmes circadiens et de leur influence sur l’expression et l’activité des facteurs de transcription. Ainsi, il reçoit la médaille d'argent du CNRS en décembre 2004.
Mais Paolo continue à naviguer entre la France et les Etats Unis et en 2006, il prend la direction du département de Pharmacologie à l’Université de Californie à Irvine puis plus tard la direction du Center for Epigenetics and Metabolism. Pendant cette période, il continue à explorer le fonctionnement de l’horloge interne des cellules, décryptant les liens entre les rythmes des cellules et le métabolisme de l’organisme humain et aussi démontant les mécanismes permettant de garder la trace du temps qui passe sur notre chromatine. En 2013, c’est dans cet esprit, qu’il rédige avec Erri De Luca, écrivain, lui-aussi napolitain, Le cas du Hasard: Escarmouches entre un écrivain et un biologiste, un recueil épistolaire où la connaissance du scientifique et le regard du poète s’affrontent puis se retrouvent dans l’humanité qui relient les deux hommes. 
Personnalité au grand rayonnement international, Paolo Sassone-Corsi aura été l'un des cent scientifiques les plus cités au monde. Au sein du CNRS, nous le regretterons comme scientifique, comme collègue et comme ami.

Remembering an amazing person and dear friend – Paolo Sassone-Corsi

September 2, 2020
Remembering an amazing person and dear friend – Paolo Sassone-Corsi

By C. David Allis – Laboratory of Chromatin Biology and Epigenetics,
The Rockefeller University; New York, NY 10065

September 1, 2020

The last in-person seminar I had the privilege of giving was at the University of Pennsylvania on March 3, 2020 early in the pandemic.  After my title slide, I began with a picture of my current lab group with a heading – ‘Why do science? – Work with talented lab members’.  Near the end of the talk, I again asked – ‘Why do science?’, but changed its answer to - ‘Meet amazing people’.  Here I showed a picture of me shaking hands with the TV actor, Alan Alda, after an event at Rockefeller where I gave a lecture on epigenetics and Alan served as the evening’s moderator.  I could have used many other examples of – amazing people– I have met in my career.  High on my list would be Paolo Sassone-Corsi, who tragically passed away on July 22.  2020 has been an absolutely dreadful year with its many challenges and disruptions.  Losing Paolo so unexpectedly and so ahead of his time makes it, for me, one of the worst years of my life.  

In this piece, however, I wish to pay tribute to Paolo as a truly remarkable scientist and a cherished friend, one of those amazing peopleI have met in my career.  I first met Paolo in 1998 at a meeting in Strasbourg, France near a time of what I might refer to as the ‘histone acetylation matters’ era.  Enzymes responsible for bringing about the steady-state balance of histone acetylation were garnering much attention, but it was the talk by Paolo that excited me.  His talk was both captivating and entertaining – the science and data Paolo presented were new and compelling to me; his delivery was perfect.  His topic was on Coffin-Lowry Syndrome (CLS), a human disorder that I had never heard of before.  A year later, Paolo and I had published our first collaborative paper describing a chromatin link to CLS [Sassone-Corsi et al., (1999) Science285, 886-891].  Our two-way interactions leading up to this paper had been stimulating and fun.  I was hooked on the new science and my new collaborator.   

What followed was a decade-long journey wherein Paolo introduced me to several new areas of biology and some exciting research between our labs (1998-2008).  Our scientific pursuits were largely centered on deciphering links between signaling pathways and chromatin-mediated transcriptional readouts, but it was Paolo - his energy and passion for all things science and non-science - that made these times so special to me.  In 1999, I returned to Strasbourg to give a seminar in Paolo’s institute.  Paolo was a gracious host showing me local sights, taking me to charming restaurants, and introducing me to his colleagues, students and postdocs, and importantly, his wife, Emiliana.  In his office, I first learned of his many interests including astronomy, photography, travel, sports, etc; he was indeed a man of many talents.  In his home, Emiliana and Paolo treated me to a delightful home-cooked meal as if I was a family member.  The conversations and fun of that evening were special as were all of my future interactions with them.  

In 2007, after many successful collaborations, I invited Paolo to give a seminar at Rockefeller where, in short, he did not disappoint.  In keeping with a long-standing tradition of mine, I gave Paolo a personalized gift as part of my introduction.  In Paolo’s case, I had asked a talented postdoc in my lab, Sean Taverna, to tap into one of his hobbies - to draw Paolo a cartoon that would attempt to mesh Paolo’s interests with his science.  In the final product, Sean cartooned Paolo as a young boy gazing out at the night stars from his bedroom window.  With his telescope and a clock nearby, young Paolo looks skyward toward a HAT-like constellation decorating the night sky (see attached cartoon).  Sean’s cartoon gift was a hit.  After turning the floor over to Paolo, he treated a standing room-only audience to an engaging and thought-provoking seminar.  I relished in the fact that I had brought such a star scientist to campus, someone who had captivated the home crowd with terrific science flavored with key insights and sprinkles of humor and wit.  His insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying circadian rhythm with links to metabolism and epigenetics were remarkable with far-reaching implications for aging, cancer and much more.  Paolo’s gave this seminar much like a gifted storybook teller; he was masterful at that.  Clearly, Paolo had a special ability for identifying fundamental biological problems and knowing how best to pursue and to present them to a broad audience.   We, as a scientific community, profited from his many groundbreaking discoveries.  These continued with a steady and remarkable pace until the tragic end of his life.

The last time I was with Paolo in-person was in 2008, where I was honored to visit Paolo’s new institution to give a seminar.  The new setting was UC Irvine where Paolo was now the Director of the Center of Epigenetics and Metabolism.  Paolo and Emiliana again outdid themselves as my hosts.  It began with a visit to their home overlooking a spectacular sunset over the Pacific Ocean followed by a delightful meal in a nearby neighborhood restaurant.  Knowing that Emiliana and Paolo grew up in Naples, Italy, with postdocs on the California coast, it was obvious to me how much they were enjoying their new positions, not to mention the warm weather, beach and ocean.  I was happy for them.  

After a stimulating day in Paolo’s department meeting many terrific faculty members, the final dinner of that visit was one with Paolo’s lab group.  There it was abundantly clear to me how much Paolo cared about his lab folks and how much they cared about him.  No lab member was skipped or excluded from the conversations.  Paolo worked the table making sure that everyone was included enjoying the science (and non-science) stories.  Paolo was in his element; he was indeed ‘the man’ of the evening.  For me, it was an unforgettable visit.  Paolo was kind to later send me an autographed poster of my seminar flier, which I have proudly hung in my office at Rockefeller ever since.  This will be a ‘keeper’.

So I return to the question - Why do science?  Again, I answer it by saying - It gives you a chance to meet and work with amazing people.  Paolo certainly fell in this category.  If I was able to choose a brother growing up, I would have wanted him to be Paolo.    Paolo was truly one of a kind – a terrific scientist with a larger-than-life personality and a genuine passion for science and a genuine caring for all those around him.   He was a dear friend to many.  He will be missed, but not forgotten.  

In 1968 Simon and Garfunkle popularized a song “Mrs. Robinson” from the blockbuster movie “The Graduate”.  Paolo was a blockbuster scientist and friend.  Thus, I have taken the liberty to modify its opening lyrics to read:

And here’s to you, Paolo Sassone-Corsi
You touched us all more than you will know
Whoa, whoa, whoa

We deeply miss you, please, Paolo Sassone-Corsi
We will always hold a special place for you
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey


 Cartoon drawn by Sean Taverna as a gift for Paolo during a seminar visit at Rockefeller University

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