Food, Global Health 5 min
Joël Doré, for the love of microbes
Joël Doré is a research director in the Joint Research Unit for Food and Gut Microbiology for Human Health and scientific director of the MetaGenoPolis, both of which are part of INRA Île-de-France – Jouy-en-Josas. Doré's soft voice and modest demeanor cannot hide his scientific enthusiasm and love for shared knowledge. And what is his scientific speciality? The intestinal microbiota: he is dedicated to studying its every facet. We interviewed Doré, a passionate scientist who is toppling preconceived ideas about the microorganisms inhabiting the human body.
Published on 20 November 2017
Doré has been working on intestinal microbiota since he first began working at INRA 33 years ago. First, he focused on those of animals and then, eight years later, began studying those of humans. Doré expounds, "It is hard to imagine, but we are inhabited by 100 trillion bacteria. These microbes are our life companions, and this arrangement protects us against major modern-day diseases." There are many such diseases, which may be metabolic, degenerative, neurological, or inflammatory in nature, and all arise from disruptions in our microbiota. "I feel very honored to be the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. I have been lucky to have had the same research focus my entire career—the award will help draw attention to the topic. The award is also recognizing the teamwork that is behind the discoveries I have made with my collaborators," he comments with a smile.
Sharing his passion
Newly hired at INRA, Doré worked at INRA Clermont-Ferrand, where he sought to build a collaborative European network for the study of intestinal microbiota. The goal was to show that "research can no longer be a solitary pursuit. Teamwork is extremely important." Then, little by little, he took on more of a supervisory role. "I had to change jobs several times, and rather early on, because my former scientific director left her research team in my hands upon her departure. INRA has given me the resources to succeed,” he explains. And succeed he has, because he has managed to transmit his passion to those who work with him, including Harry Sokol and Patricia Lepage, whom he co-advised when they were PhD students. Sokol and Lepage now both work on intestinal microbiota as well. Sokol is studying an intestinal bacterium with anti-inflammatory properties, which could be used in medical treatments. Lepage's focus is the efficacy of microbes as adjuvants in cancer drugs.
Pairing research and innovation
INRA has given me the resources to succeed
Technological advances, especially in robotics, have permanently changed microbiota research. Doré explains that certain procedures, such as DNA extraction, which involved technicians in lab coats laboring under a hood for up to four days, can now be carried out by machines in no more than a few hours. Methodological standardization is a key contributor to research quality because more consistent procedures lead to more reliable results. Technological progress in this field has also allowed start-ups to emerge; one such start-up is MaaT Pharma, to which Doré dedicates 20% of his time. He comments, "I work a lot with David Petiteau, who is INRA's business developer in the field of microorganism-based innovation. It is great because we complement each other extremely well: I take care of the science, and he takes care of the business.” Doré views innovation transfer as an essential part of modern research.
A healthy work-life balance
Doré has other passions outside of research. When he is not in the lab, he is a consummate climber of via ferrata routes, cliffs, trees, or even buildings. "I remember once climbing up the side of one of the center's buildings. An exterior blind was broken, but nothing was being done, so I fixed it myself,” he says with a laugh. "My wife and I go climbing once a week. I have also been running since I was child. Now, it is an activity I do with my children. I recently ran a marathon with my daughter, and I go trail running with two of my children."
Nurturing your microbiota
The conversation quickly returns to research. "Before, when someone would ask me if my research had caused me to change my diet or lifestyle, I would say no. Now, though, my work is creeping into my daily habits. I make sure to eat a lot of fiber, and I never have just one type of fruit or vegetable. I always eat diverse mixtures," he explains, with a gleam in his bespectacled eyes. And his favorite dessert? He will take a fruit salad over a pastry any day. What's more, he makes his own cheese, bread, yogurt, and—more recently—wine. He comments, "I love doing it because it involves taming microbes. These foods are 'alive’ and may thus behave unpredictably. Making wine is a lot more complicated, though, because it involves technical skill that I have not yet mastered."
The healing power of microbes
What is Doré's one major wish? That we finally start thinking about symbioses (i.e., relationships between human cells and microbial cells) when treating diseases. This could take the form of dietary recommendations, preventive measures, or medical treatments. He admonishes, "We continue to view microbes as bad, but it is our relationships with them that keep us safe!"
In the centre, Joël Doré, recipient of the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award, surrounded by teams from Micalis and MetaGénoPolis at INRA Île-de-France – Jouy-en-Josas Research Centre
Thinking ahead to tomorrow's research...and beyond
From Doré's perspective, what current research has done well is describe the microbiota of healthy people, as well as those of people with certain major diseases (e.g., Alzheimer's, obesity). In the years to come, his goal is to conduct a more detailed exploration of the microbiota and to develop tools for personalizing dietary regimes and medical treatments. He suggests, "We need to increase the fiber intake of the everyday person." He continues, "At present, humans are often in unhealthy relationships with their microbes, which can result in a vicious cycle in which humans become more vulnerable. As the diversity of our microbiota declines, we increasingly struggle to respond to dietary changes and medical treatments, and then chronic diseases ensue, which siphon off additional microbial diversity."
Born in August, 1959; married with three children (who work in law, international business, and digital communications, respectively)
- 1983: Master of Advanced Studies in Applied Animal Physiology
- 1988: PhD from the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (completed while he was a contractual scientific associate at INRA)
- 1992: Submits his first European grant proposal
- 2010: Becomes one of five deputy directors of the Joint Research Unit for Food and Gut Microbiology, overseen by INRA and AgroParisTech
- 2012: Becomes the scientific director of MetaGenoPolis
Climbing (especially in the Esterel Mountains); completing via ferrata routes; running; making his own wine, cheese, and bread
- 2014: He and his collaborator Stanislav Dusko Ehrlich receive the Grand Prix in the Sciences from the Simone and Cino del Duca Foundation for their work on microbiota and their characterization of the intestinal metagenome.
- 2016: He receives the Dupont Nutrition and Health Medal of Excellence for his work on the intestinal microbiota and its role in certain chronic diseases.
- 2017: INRA Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2017: winner of an ERC Advanced grant