IFOM Svend Petersen-Mahrt

Svend Petersen-Mahrt

Born in Hamburg Germany, Svend Petersen-Mahrt came to Italy and IFOM in 2011. Head of the DNA Editing in Immunity and Epigenetics laboratory, Svend Petersen-Mahrt researches DNA deaminases.

In high school, Svend Petersen- Mahrt became fascinated with computers and genetics, and combining these interests led him to do a degree in Microbiology, at Texas A&M University. Pursuing an academic career. Svend Petersen-Mahrt specialized in Biochemistry, and obtained a PhD in Pathology and Immunology at Boston University School of Medicine. Here he had focused on engineering anti-DNA antibodies mimicking the somatic hypermutation (SHM) process in vitro.

Svend Petersen-Mahrt then embarked on a postdoc in Molecular Virology at Uppsala University in Sweden, where he became absorbed in RNA biology. Precisely, because the question of how the molecular pathway of SHM works remained important to him. In late 1999 he went to do his second postdoc with Micheal Neuberger, a world expert in SHM, at the MRC-LMB in Cambridge UK. While collaborating with Neuberger on the identification of various SHM pathways, Professor Tasuku Honju of Kyoto University discovered AID (activation induced deaminases), a fundamental enzyme in the process of SHM. This allowed Professor Neuberger and his lab, in 2002, to theorise and prove that AID mutates the genome through targeting DNA. Further exploring this discovery, Svend Petersen-Mahrt headed his own DNA editing research group at Cancer Research UK. Here his interest in DNA instability in epigenetics and oncological research began to grow.

Since childhood Svend Petersen-Mahrt has endlessly questioned how things work, and it is this curiosity that has led him to head original inquiries. Thanks to his mentor, Thomas Lindhal, Svend Petersen-Mahrt was introduced to IFOM where he now has "the opportunity to pursue oncological research with great intellectual freedom, which is critical for every researcher, but not always granted."

Together with his team he is exploring how DNA instability, lead by DNA deaminases, can be advantageous for an organism and how AID, activated by estrogen, can induce cancer.

IFOM Review

A key insight on the enzymatic activity of AID
A commentary to Svend Petersen-Mahrt's paper published on Journal of Experimental Medicine, by Michael Neuberger (2013)
complete review