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Loic Fort, Ph.D. – December 2022 Newsletter Feature

Posted by on Tuesday, November 29, 2022 in Postdoc Features.

Written by Loic Fort, Ph.D. 

Some people are driven from a very young age toward a specific career path; it can be related to the education they received, their parents’ jobs, or the heroes they used to admire. However, nothing destined me to become a scientist. When thinking about the roots of my scientific passion, it is difficult to pinpoint when my interest first began. I grew up as the youngest child of a non-scientific family of four in Lyon, France, which is the second largest French city after Paris. Lyon is considered to be the French food capital and, interestingly, my passion for food is likely what led me to pursue a scientific path.

As a kid, I remember always following my parents to the fresh market, talking to local farmers and learning about the quality of their products. At home, I was fascinated by the sight of my parents running the kitchen, the coordination between them, like a synchronized duo dance, the exactitude and rigor of their movements, and the precision of the cooking time for different types of meat or shellfish. I became involved in this captivating daily scene and was now in the perfect place to experience the multitude of flavors combinations, and to understand the fine balanced chemistry between the sourness, sweetness, saltiness and bitterness of each ingredient. As in science, the first try was rarely successful, but with optimization, the recipe would almost always turn out to be a unique result. During high school, my scientific interest took over my passion of cooking, but I also realized that they were very similar: Protocols replaced recipes, and both were challenging me to think outside the box.


I was lucky enough to combine these two passions with my wanderlust. Each step of my education was obtained from a different country: France (BSc), Canada (MSc), United Kingdom (PhD) and now the United States for my postdoctoral training. My PhD work spent with Laura Machesky (Beatson Institute for Cancer Research – Glasgow, UK) focused on characterizing a protein of unknown function. With no published literature on that protein, it was a challenging project, but it opened the possibility to use a broad range of methods and technics, from crystallography, to in silico analysis, to cell biology and various mouse models. With our functional characterization and as a first author of this research, I had the privilege to rename this protein (CYRI-B), a once in the lifetime opportunity for a scientist!

I joined Ian Macara lab (Cell and Developmental Biology department – CDB) in the summer 2018. In the lab, I build my scientific niche to interrogate pathways regulating cardiac differentiation during development. Specifically, during their journey to become cardiac cells, I unexpectedly found that a small population of stem cells die and release factors to promote differentiation of the surviving population. With this project recently published, I have started focusing on alternative pathways promoting cardiac cell commitment. I am currently looking at the role of mechanical stress during differentiation and investigate how cell tension affects early differentiation. I am hoping this project will resonate to other developmental biologists as I go on the job market for a tenure tracked faculty position within the next year.

The shift of research field between grad school and my postdoc was a perfect opportunity to create a supportive network across the School of Medicine Basic Sciences. As a way to give back to the Vanderbilt community, I volunteered to TA for the Program of Developmental Biology bootcamp in 2019. This year, I am involved as a facilitator for the 1st year IGP block and I joined the DEI committee for CDB in order to make academia a more welcoming place. My love of science is reflected through my involvement in academia as an early-career reviewer for eLife and my strong involvement on PubPeer, in order to promote more transparent and ethical research.


If not in the lab, you will find me running around campus, training to break my PB at the next half marathon. In 2019, I started climbing so if you are looking for a climbing partner, feel free to contact me. Finally, with all these physical activities, I am always interested to try out new places to eat/drink. The gastronomic scene in Nashville has exploded over the last 4 years. While I try to stay away from touristy places, my few favorites include Bastion, Pelican & Pig, 5th and Taylor, Le Loup, Slow Hand coffee, and of course, Once Upon a time in France, as a delicate Proust’s madeleine of my parent’s cooking.

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