The Centre de Recherches de Biochimie Macromoléculaire (CRBM: Centre for Biochemical and Macromolecular Research) was created as a CNRS intramural unit (laboratoire propre: LP) in 1966.
The first director was Emile Zuckerkandl, co-founder with Linus Pauling of the field of molecular evolution and inventor with him of the concept of molecular clock.
At that time, CRBM research was focused on comparing the sequences of proteins (particularly globins and parvalbumins) and their evolution. One has to remember that in the 1960-1970s the recombinant DNA techniques had not been developed yet, and thus such type of research needed very specific and cutting-edge skills in protein purification and sequencing that have strongly oriented the future CRBM research mission.
After an interim period during which Nguyen Van Thoai and then Louise-Anne Pradel directed the institute, Jacques Demaille headed the CRBM from 1983.
Biochemical studies, focused mainly on muscle, remained one of the CRBM strong points; however, research started to become more oriented towards unravelling the function of proteins, by tackling the composition of multi-protein complexes and cell organelles as well as by studying the roles of kinases, a research axis directly initiated by Jacques Demaille.
The arrival of Marcel Dorée in 1982 strengthened this new research field by focusing on the control of meiotic maturation and the cell cycle in starfish and then in Xenopus laevis from 1985. This vertebrate, which has been bred in the Lavalette centre (managed by CRBM) since then, is still a reference biological model for many CRBM research groups.
The characterization of MPF (maturation promoting factor) in 1989 by Marcel Dorée’s group initiated a crucial decade for our current understanding of the cell cycle that is inseparable from the work produced at the CRBM.
After the departure of Jacques Demaille and of part of the CRBM research groups to found the Institut de Génétique Humaine, Marcel Dorée became CRBM director from 1997 to 2003.
At his instigation, the analysis of the cell cycle was associated with the study of protein degradation and replication, and cell signalling research was developed with the arrival of several groups working on the control of cell proliferation, cell adhesion and cell transformation, particularly by the Rho GTPase and SRC kinase pathways.
During this period, a huge effort was put in developing cell imaging, thanks to Pierre Travo’s effort, leading to the creation of the « MRI » (Montpellier Rio Imaging) facility at the CRBM in February 2003.
From 2003 to 2010, CRBM direction was ensured by Paul Mangeat, professor at the University Montpellier 2 and specialist in the cytoskeleton-cell membrane interactions. CRBM became a joint research unit (UMR 5237), affiliated both to CNRS and the University Montpellier 2. During this period, CRBM strengthened its expertise in structural biochemistry by developing biophysical and bioinformatics approaches. Many scientific breakthroughs are the results of work carried out by CRBM research groups, particularly the discovery of the Greatwall kinase role in mitotic control. The investment policy in cell imaging was continued, allowing the MRI facility to offer its services to the entire scientific community of Montpellier thanks to the creation of new technology platforms.
Under Paul Mangeat’s direction, CRBM big adventure continued with the construction work for the new CRBM building (something very much looked forward by everyone) to replace the old premises (full of history but now quite aged). The construction of the new CRBM was associated with that of a symmetrical building dedicated to the Centre d’études d’agents Pathogènes et Biotechnologies pour la Santé (CPBS) and also of an animal house and a « mouse transgenesis » technology facility for several Montpellier Institutes. The new buildings were delivered at the end of 2010, at the end of Paul Mangeat’s mandate.
From 2011 to 2020, CRBM direction was ensured by Anne Debant, coordinator of the «Cytoskeleton signalling and dynamics» research group that is specialized in the role of GTPases during cell motility and neuron development.
The move into the new CRBM building was accompanied by the arrival of three new research groups that were selected after an international call for proposals. As a result, CRBM has integrated new research projects on cell and developmental biology, based on new bioinformatics and systems biology approaches. In 2012, CRBM created a Scientific Advisory Board and issued a new international call for group leaders. During 2013/2014, three more research groups joined the institute to develop their cell biology research on the intimate mechanisms of the cell cycle, its diversion by intracellular bacteria and the organization of epithelia.
Since Jan 1st, 2021, Claude Prigent, DR CNRS is the director of the CRBM. He is the former director of the Institute of Genetics and Development in Rennes, he has been leading the “Cell Cycle” research team since 1996. He studies mitosis and its control by protein kinases from the Aurora family with a particular focus on Aurora-A and its role in cancer.