Interview with José Tubío, PI of the Mobile Genomics group.

“The study of genome mobility in oncogenic processes will revolutionise future diagnosis and treatment of cancer”

José Tubío has been part of the University of Vigo since 2016 and is one of the most important CINBIO researchers. With a background in Bioinformatics and Molecular Biology, he is a member of the International Cancer Genome Consortium and a recipient of an ERC Starting Grant. He currently leads the Mobile Genomics research group from which he coordinates research dealing with how certain sequences of DNA or tumour cells are mobilised and then cause the development of different types of cancer. Along with the Phylogenomics group led by David Posada, they set up the Evogenomics research group that currently has a team of around 20 people. 9 of the members from Evogenomics are part of the Mobile Genomics team. This multidisciplinary group is made up of bioinformaticians, mathematicians, pathologists, which provides a balance between the computational and the molecular biology areas.

 

Which are the main lines of research for the “Mobile Genomics” group?

Our research focuses on cancer genomics with the aim of finding out how cancer genomes develop. Therefore, our main line of research is focused on “Mobile DNA”, in other words, all the parts of our genome which have the capacity for movement, also known as “mobile sequences”. The mobilizations of these sequences can lead to a mutation being produced which then leads to cancer. The research is carried out within the framework of the International Cancer Genome Consortium, made up of hundreds of scientists from different countries.

Another of our line of research, within the scope of the International Cancer Genome Consortium, is the identification of new potentially cancer-causing viruses. To do so, the largest cancer genome database currently in existence will be used with a sequencing volume of 3,000 cancer genomes and its results will have huge implications for cancer diagnosis, prevention and treatment in coming years.

Within the framework of the ERC Starting Grant, we are developing a new line of research focusing on transmissible cancers: cancerous cells that have the capacity to escape from one organism, meaning they can be transmitted from one individual to another. This process is similar to the process of metastasis which is responsible for 90% of deaths in cancer patients. The research is carried out using certain bivalve mollusks in which tumor cells are capable of “escaping”, surviving in the sea, and infecting another mollusk.

Transmissible cancers act in the same way as metastasis, but instead of happening within a body, they are transmitted between different individuals. This innovative line of research places the focus on determining what genes make a cancer transmissible, how it survives until infecting another individual, and how it can infect this new individual despite the physiological barriers present.

 

Which results do you hope will be transferred to society from your research?

Undoubtedly, the line of research, which focuses on transmissible cancer between mollusks, will generate patents that will be use to our fishing and seafood industry. Likewise, this could have important implications for human health in the future, because although they are sporadic, cases of transmissible cancer between humans exist.

Regarding to our line of research “mobile sequencing”, we have already identified some sequences with potential impact on a diagnostic, preventative and treatment level.

 

Which other research groups on a national and international level do you collaborate with?

 Among all the collaborations that we have established in the group, I would highlight the one we have with the Sanger Institute in Cambridge (UK), part of the International Cancer Genome Consortium and one of the major global benchmarks for cancer genetics.

On the other hand, other organisms such as the Toralla Marine Science Station (ECIMAT) and the Centre for Marine Research, along with other departments from the University of Vigo, participate in the project dealing with transmissible cancers in marine organisms.

Likewise, the Mobile Genomics group also collaborates actively with other CINBIO research groups, for example David Posada’s group and we hope to soon have collaborations with others, such as Africa González’s Immunology group.

 

 

Which indicators from your research group would you highlight?

I would highlight three indicators of the Evogenomics group, two of which are focused on scientific production and the other on funding:

The first is the fact that David Posada is one of the most cited researchers in the world and the most cited in Spain, which gives the group a lot of added relevance.

The second indicator, which characterizes the group, is that in the last 3 years the Mobile Genomics team has published more than 10 articles in the Nature and Science journals.

The third is the securing of funding by the group. In the last 3-4 years we have secured European funding to the tune of more than 5 million euros (Posada has an ERC Starting Grant and a Consolidator Grant, and Tubio has an ERC Starting Grant).

 

Why CINBIO?

 CINBIO undoubtedly represents a great opportunity for collaboration and establishment of synergies with other groups; furthermore, it strengthens research by the infrastructures and knowledge that otherwise would not be present in south Galicia.

CINBIO gives the University of Vigo and the whole area of Galicia added value on a biomedical research level which makes it more competitive and visible internationally.