Isabelle Bonne (2)


  • Hello Isabelle, so what brought you to Singapore?

Before coming to Singapore, I was in France working at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. In 2014,  I was invited to Singapore by a research group in the National University of Singapore (NUS) to collaborate on a project for two years. It has now been seven years and I’m still in Singapore … Indeed, five years ago, the Life Sciences Institute in NUS offered me a position to manage the Electron Microscopy Laboratory.

  • Can you explain your research topic(s) in a few words and tell me what types of application(s) do your research activities lead to?

The Life Sciences Institute (LSI) at the NUS is a research centre dedicated to the understanding of fundamental biological pathways in human health and disease, environmental science and industrial processes. I run the Electron Microscopy Laboratory in this Institute. We work in the imaging field,  providing advanced expertise for sample preparation, electron microscopy imaging, and analysis of biological samples and bio-composite materials. Electron Microscopy (EM) allows us to observe a world exponentially smaller than the one we can see with our unaided eyes or even with the familiar light microscope. EM uses electrons to “see” small objects in the same way that light beams let us observe our surroundings or objects in a light microscope. With EM, we can look at the feather-like scales of an insect, the internal structures of a cell, individual proteins or even individual atoms in a metal alloy.

  • That sounds really nice! We would love to see some experiments some day! I am really curious about the applications of such a precise microscope, what are you actually looking for through such a device, what are the applications of such research?

Applications of electron microscopy, whether stand-alone or in combination with other microscopy methods, are used in diverse fields of biological and medical research and in medical diagnosis. We can identify diseases and viruses and  test new vaccinations and medicines. EM can be used on anything from insects and animal tissue to bacteria and viruses. In fact, our lab collaborates on morethan  10 research projects. A few of them employ ultrastructural analysis to evaluate single cells or more subtle structures, such as organelles, cytoskeleton and other sub-cellular elements; interactions between host cells or tissue and pathogens i.e., virus particles and bacteria. On the other hand, we study virus particles and protein structures, complexes and aggregates such as Dengue, Hepatitis and Coronavirus at a very high magnification level. I’m sure you have all seen the beautiful SARS- CoV-2 EM images…

Covid Pic

  • Indeed I have seen some pictures of the virus in the press but I have to admit I am not sure I understand what I am looking at (laughs). You mentioned more than 0 research collaboration projects are, are some of them related to French and Singaporean institutes?

We collaborate with research groups in LSI and also with many others inside and outside NUS such as A*Star and NTU. We also collaborate with Electron Microscopy core facilities in NUS, A*star and NTU. They have various state-of-the-art equipment that we can use depending on the scientific question we have to answer and the design of experiments. This is what I like about Singapore, the Electron Microscopy world is quite niche and it is easy to interact and collaborate with each other. However, even if Singapore iswell equipped, some technologies are not yet available. That is the reason why I collaborate with former colleagues in France, at the Institut Pasteur and in Bordeaux. However, due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation, at the moment all of our current collaborations are on hold…

  • Great, glad to see that you are still maintaining collaborations with French counterparts! We get researchers contacting us to learn more about the research environment in Singapore. What would your advice be for those young researchers coming to Singapore?

I would say the same thing to them as I always tell my kid: do what you like but do it with purpose, try to be the best you can be and never give up. Research is a competitive field where humility and patience are required. You need to trust yourself and follow your intuition. In Singapore, research is well regarded, with a good output of very high impact publications and state-of-the-art technologies, but they always need more researchers. So if you have the skills they need , if you are passionate and hardworking, then you have a good chance of success J …

  • You are a very active member in the French Lab community. Which scientific field or subject would you like the FrenchLab to address through an event in the future, most likely after the pandemic is under control?

Actually, not necessary a scientific field related to mine! I have plenty of opportunities to attend scientific events in my work. I would like to see more social sciences or political sciences events. The French Lab Singapore is a good way to engage with other scientists in different domains and I have a particular personal interest in the latter.

  • Thank you very much for answering all these questions. I have alast one for you and then you are free 😉! Could you tell us how you adapted your work given the current pandemic situation?

The lab, like many others, has been  closed since the implementation of the circuit breaker measures. Only research on the covid-19 is allowed to carry  on. Electron Microscopy could help with the research but for the moment, we are still waiting for further instructions. So, while waiting to going back to the lab, I work on the huge amount of data and images I have to analyse, I read widely on topics in my domain e.g.advanced imaging in EM, hoping  to publish with the same technology, I “zoom” with my lab and collaborators. We continue too to design new experiments … and we suffer our pain in patience… Ah and I forgot, I am also doing interviews!  with you for the FrenchLab!   Thank you again for taking the time to answer all the questions, I wish you all the best during this difficult period and see you soon!

Credits : Department for Culture, Education and Science, Embassy of France in Singapore