Philippe F Devaux left us

Professor Philip F. Devaux died December 1, 2015 at the age of 76 following a long illness.

The French Society of Membranes and the French Society of Biophysics has just lost one of its pillars and one of its former presidents. The entire community of biophysicists and membranes scientists pay tribute to the scientist and the great teacher he was.

Philippe Devaux began his scientific career in 1969 with a thesis in physics performed at the Solid-state Physics Laboratory of the Ecole Normale Supérieure under the direction of P. Aigrain and Mr Schott. He was then interested in the electronic properties of single crystals.

After a two-year stint at Stanford University, in Pr. H. M. McConnell laboratory, he switches in the world of biophysics of membrane lipids. He is the first to measure the lateral diffusion of lipids in phospholipid vesicles and in biological membranes using electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR): he unweils this very fast processes in the plane of the membrane occurring at microsecond time scale. His seminal articles  in the field are mentioned nearly 400 times.

Prof Philippe F Devaux

Prof Philippe F Devaux

Back in France he became a lecturer and professor at the University Paris VII. He creates in 1977 a laboratory associated to CNRS "Molecular probes in Biomembranes", which will become "Cell Biophysics" in the Institute of Biological Physicochemistry (IBPC). He developed nitroxide lipid llabeling, EPR and fluorescence measurements by constructing an original photo-bleaching system that also provides access to the lateral diffusion measurements of lipids and proteins in cell membranes, but also in amphiphilic phases of cubic symmetry. The new equipment will allow him to revisit the static model of the "annulus" of lipids around the membrane proteins and propose a more dynamic version. In the early 1980s he also develops Phosphorus-31 and deuterium solid-state NMR to highlight conformational changes of phospholipid headgroups in contact with membrane proteins.

The mid-1980s saw the arrival of one of his major works on membrane asymmetry. He discovered the existence of protein transporters of lipids, flippases, that maintain and regulate the asymmetry of membranes. Very elegant studies using lipids bearing nitroxide radicals allowed him to measure for the first time the transverse diffusion, between both sides of the two membrane leafllets, in lipid vesicles and in erythrocyte membranes. He thus accesses to very long time scales for this "flip-flop", of the order of several hours. This discovery reveals the cell membrane as a dynamic entity in which movements occurring over several time decades are necessary for the functioning of living processes. His work is cited more than 600 times. It will continue for several years on this pathway by collaborating with colleagues from Oxford, Louvain and Utrecht to study in detail the lipid-protein interactions involved in membrane plasticity.

Philippe Devaux has trained many students, A. Brisson, A. Rousselet, J-F. Office, Mr. Seigneuret, J. Davoust, Morrot G., L. Mathivet, D. Warschawski, E. Farge, X. Buton, Mr. Traikia. Mr. Triba, to name a few, who now participate in the development of the French biophysics and Membrane studies. Among his many responsibilities that have helped structuring biophysics at national and international levels, it should be noted, among others, that he has been president of the French Society of Biophysics, National Treasurer of Biophysics Committee (Freanch Academy of Sciences) and member of the Executive Committee of the European society of Biophysics (EBSA) and of the IUPAB (International Union for Pure and Applied Biophysics). The Royal Academy of the Netherlands Humanities and Sciences awarded him the prestigious Descartes-Huygens prize in 2000.

His life was devoted to science. For those who have truly known him, we will keep the memory of a friend very demanding from the scientific viewpoint but also with a so-French sense of humor and great loyalty.

Philippe Devaux, we will not forget you.


Erick Dufourc & Alain Brisson, December 2015


History of GEM

The genesis

In the beginning there was darkness. Nothing pierced membranes.
Then came Jéminet and his group of Clermont-Ferrand, who synthesized derivatives such as ionophores calcimycin, lasalocid, monensin.
Around 1983, the CNRS, in its wisdom, created a CPR (Cooperative Research Program) to analyze the effects of these compounds on membrane permeability, under the leadership of Georges Jéminet and Gérard Spach. In 1985, Jacques Bolard and "its" Amphotericin B joined the group.

In 1986 the RCP ended and its members decided to reformulate a request for RCP. Las! CNRS, at that time, decided to terminate the CPR system, in general.
Members of the previous RCP,  because of the strong and good constructive agreement existing between them, decided to continue to cooperate and form a research group. J. Bolard volunteered to lead the group and proposed that it adds colleagues from Bordeaux, Toulouse, Montpellier, Strasbourg. It was made clear that it was to focus on the mechanism of action of membrane effectors. A name was proposed by Aline Vertut-Croquin: the GEIMM (Group to study Molecules Membranes Interactions).
The CNRS gave his blessing to this creation. Thus was it!

At work …

The first meeting GEIMM, genuine founding act, took place in Paris from 16 to 18 November 1987 under the auspices of Jacques Bolard. This first meeting, supported by INSERM, CNRS and the SFB, It was ambitious; it brings together nearly 170 participants, including many European colleagues. It was recommended there (already) to make such conferences in English. This international ambition however was not perpetuated, despite several attempts. GEIMM meetings succeeded in more or less regular intervals (18 months). The topics discussed during these meetings evolved gradually and vectorization appeared in 1996 but the spirit promoted by J. Bolard and colleagues remained intact. During the first decade, the organization of GEIMM meetings rested entirely on the shoulders of the organizer co-opted at the last meeting. The experience (and success) helping, it proved necessary to institute a "GEIMM Committee". This was decided, under the impetus of Michèle Saint-Pierre, at the 9th Meeting organized by Parisian in September 2000 in Ardèche.

This committee meets for the first time in Paris on 31 January 2001. He gathered all the organizers (in pairs or alone) of previous meetings since 1987. It was understood that the chair was taken by the meeting organizer and that the responsibility for the next meeting had to be decided at the General Assembly ending each meeting. In case of departure of a member, he could co-opt a person of his choice but preferably representing his region. The committee would meet before and after each conference to maintain cohesion between the various meetings.

Soon enough, the problem of our association with the SFB rested, and this on both sides. It is also noted that several meetings (6th, 10th and 14th) took place in conjunction with the biannual Congress SFB. This was not done without some reluctance because among the founding members were concerned that GEIMM migth loose its soul (phagocytosis does not imply membrane phenomena?). A convention was signed by representatives of the committees of GEIMM and SFB the 14th of May 2001, the GEIMM becoming the first of the thematic groups of SFB.

Given the administrative rules becoming stricter day by day, it also proved necessary to give the GEIMM a legal existence. This need was manifested in the creation of an association "law 1901". Agnes Girard-Egrot and Erick Dufourc undertook this task and the association was declared in the Rhone Prefecture in September 2011. The association is defined as a learned society that aims to unite for the national level, the relative activities to the study of biological membranes in all their aspects. It was also decided on that occasion to change the title. The GEIMM thus became the Membrane Study Group (GEM), new logo dedicated to the 15th meeting in Paris in early April 2012.



Prof Jacques Bolard

Prof Jacques Bolard 

 Prof Guy Duportail

Prof Guy Duportail

 Prof Michele Saint Pierre, Paris

Prof Michèle Saint-Pierre


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