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Eric Karsenti was born in Paris (FR). After growing up in Paris, he attended the University of Paris (becoming the University Paris-VII in 1971) between 1967 and 1972, receiving a degree in sciences. Between 1972 and 1979, he carried out doctoral research in immunocytochemistry at the Institut Pasteur. He was awarded a doctorate (thèse dÉtat) in 1979 for his thesis entitled "Le rôle de la membrane plasmique et du cytosquelette dans la stimulation des lymphocytes par la Concanavaline A: recherche d'interactions entre le cytosquelette, la membrane plasmique et le génôme." In 1976, he had been recruited by the CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique). Between 1979 and 1981, he worked at the Institut Pasteur as a researcher in cell and molecular biology, before taking up a postdoctoral position at the University of California, San Francisco (1981-1984). He then worked at the CNRS Centre for Experimental Cytology (Centre de cytologie expérimentale) in Paris (1984-1985) before moving to EMBL in Heidelberg in 1985.
Working in the Cell Biology Programme, Karsenti’s group researched the microtubules’ organization during the cell cycle. From 1994 to 1997, jointly with Christian Boulin, he is the programme coordinator for the Physical Instrumentation/Cell Biophysics Programme (then the Cell Biophysics Programme from 1995 to 1997). In 1998, the Cell Biophysics Programme became the Cell Biology and Biophysics Programme, and Karsenti became its programme coordinator until 2009. (In 2009, he shared this position with Jan Ellenberg.) In 2010, he became a Senior Scientist at EMBL and in 2014, Karsenti became a Visiting Scientist at EMBL.
During his time at EMBL, Karsenti’s research continued to focus on the organization of the cell during its cycle.
Between 2000 and 2003, he was also the director of the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris.
In 2009, Karsenti began working on Tara Oceans, a scientific expedition seeking to understand the key role and place of marine microorganisms in global ecosystems. Between 2009 and 2013, the expedition sailed the global ocean to gather specimens from more than 210 stations.
He was elected to EMBO in 1993, and in 2015, he was awarded the CNRS Gold Medal (Médaille d’Or du CNRS).