Nouria Hernandez obtained a master’s degree from the University of Geneva and a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Heidelberg. She did postdoctoral research with Alan Weiner at Yale University, and in 1987 she joined Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. In 1999 she became an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In 2005 she joined the faculty of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. In August 2016 she will become Rector of the University of Lausanne. Hernandez is a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization and a recipient of the Cloëtta Prize from the Professor Dr Max Cloëtta Foundation.
Hernandez’s research focuses on mechanisms of gene regulation in mammals. RNA polymerase III (Pol III) synthesizes a number of RNA products involved in protein translation, maturation of other RNA molecules and other processes. The Hernandez lab aims to understand how Pol III genes are regulated and the consequences of deregulated Pol III transcription. Pol III is tightly controlled in response to environmental cues, yet in mammalian cells, a genome-scale picture of Pol III regulation and the role played by the Pol III repressor MAF1 is lacking. Such fundamental questions as whether Pol III genes are regulated globally or individually, and whether MAF1 binds to Pol III genes under adverse conditions (and to which genes), have remained either unanswered or only poorly explored. Hernandez’s group has recently shown that the regulation of Pol III genes is not a uniform process affecting all genes similarly; rather, groups of Pol III genes are differentially regulated. Pol III recruitment and transcription are tightly linked to MAF1, which selectively localizes to Pol III-occupied loci, even under serum-replete conditions, and increasingly targets transcribing Pol III in response to serum starvation. A Maf1 knockout mouse displays several lipid metabolism abnormalities, an observation that links Pol III transcription to lipid metabolism.