Prof. Susan M. Gasser is a swiss molecular biologist and is currently the Director of the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research. She studied biology and biophysics at the Uni. of Chicago, did her PhD at the Uni. of Basel in Biochemistry, and a postdoc at the Uni. of Geneva. She began her own research on chromatin at the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research in Lausanne from 1986-2001, and then returned to the Uni. of Geneva as Professor of Molecular Biology. In 2004, she was recruited as Director of the FMI, and nominated as Professor of Molecular Biology at the Uni. of Basel.
Starting with the discovery that the enzyme topoisomerase II plays a structural role in the organization of metaphase chromosomes, Susan Gasser has explored how nuclear and chromosomal context establishes and maintains heritable patterns of gene expression. From the telomere position effect in yeast, to the inheritance of repressed tissue-specific genes in C. elegans, her studies have examined how the clustering and spatial organization of heterochromatin contributes to heritable gene silencing. In worms, she showed that histone modifications directly determine the spatial organization of chromatin, and that the positioning of heterochromatin, which contributes to the stable inheritance of gene expression states. Its loss generates degenerative disease in man.
In parallel to these studies, Susan Gasser optimized live imaging techniques to pioneer the analysis of chromatin dynamics with time-lapse fluorescence imaging. By analyzing chromatin movement in living yeast cells, she found that chromatin has constant subdiffusive motion in the nucleus. In yeast, as in other organisms, DNA damage and double-strand breaks increase chromatin movement in a checkpoint kinase-and chromatin remodeler-dependent manner, due to histone degradation.
Professor Gasser has authored more than 250 primary articles and reviews, and has received a number of award in 2013.