Silvestro Conticello

Silvestro Conticello started in Catania (Italy) where - despite his training as a medical doctor - he quickly moved to basic research with a Ph.D. in biochemistry. His interest in gene diversification began at the Weizmann Institute (Israel), as a postdoc with Mike Fainzilber. There, he set up one of the first projects to analyse the diversity of conotoxins, a large group of neuroactive molecules from the venoms of Conus snails. This brought him to investigate the processes at work in the evolution of this large gene family. His fascination with genetic hypervariability and with its role in evolution of somatic cells brought him into the lab of Michael Neuberger at the LMB in Cambridge (UK), to work on the molecular mechanisms of antibody diversification. He arrived at the LMB in 2002, just in time to witness Michael reveal that AID, the effector of all antigen-driven antibody diversification processes, was a DNA editor. The next years were an exciting ride between bench and in silico work: from the evolutionary and structural origins of the AID/APOBECs, the gene family whose archetype is AID, to the interactors of AID and the characterisation of the pathway that HIV uses to counteract the APOBEC3s, a branch of the AID/APOBECs active against retro/lentiviruses. He left the LMB in 2007 to start his own group at the Istituto Toscano Tumori in Florence (Italy), where he still messes with AID/APOBECs and evolution in the context of cancer research. In particular, in the past few years Conticello’s group have focused on APOBEC1, physiologically characterised as an RNA editing enzyme, that they proved to be a strong DNA mutator involved in the onset of cancer mutations.