Yasmine Belkaid, an immunity explorer at the head of the Pasteur Institute

Yasmine Belkaid is back in France, let it be known! Even with drum rolls, the announcement may not upset the general public. Scientists rarely make headlines – except when they win a Nobel… or propose dubious treatments to defeat a pandemic. In the world of medical research, on the other hand, the arrival of the Franco-Algerian immunologist at the head of the Pasteur Institute, after a quarter of a century spent in the United States, constitutes an event. Especially since only one woman has held this position before her.

Yasmine Belkaid, at the Pasteur Institute, in Paris, January 10, 2024.

“All the American universities would have given her a golden bridge and she is coming to us, it’s a small miracle”breathes Alain Fischer, president of the Academy of Sciences and immunologist like her. ” A miracle ? I would rather say that it is a very reasoned choicecorrects her friend Bana Jabri, also an immunologist, professor at the University of Chicago and future director of the Imagine Institute in Paris. This decision combines its scientific, political and human interests. »

As for Anthony Fauci, his boss for seventeen years at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), he does not hide his mixed feelings. “It is with a mixture of sadness and positive excitement that we, here in the United States and at the NIH, bid farewell to Yasmine Belkaid, tells us “Mr. Public Health” of the last eight American presidents. We are sad because we are losing one of our most beloved and valued scientists, a scientific superstar and visionary leader, but we are excited in a positive way because we know she will be director of the Institut Pasteur, one of the most notable biomedical research institutions in the world. » The decor is set.

Science, its refuge

To talk about Yasmine Belkaid’s “return to France” is, however, to forget her third homeland. Or rather the first: Algeria. It was there that she was born, in August 1968, into a binational family, deeply marked by the independence struggle. His father left school to join the guerrillas when he was 13. A pure self-taught man, he rose through the administrative ranks to become a senior civil servant, then a minister. His mother, French, professor of clics, crossed the Mediterranean in 1962 “to come and rebuild the country and repair the ravages of colonization”. In the family, we therefore cherish freedom, commitment and knowledge.

Young Yasmine adds to this tail a very personal pion: science. She discovered it during her vacation in France, with her pharmacist grandmother. “She had a laboratory behind the pharmacyshe remembers. My first toys were scientific objects on the white bench. And she took me to the mountains, showed me the plants, how they could be transformed into remedies. At 6 years old, I announced that I wanted to become a researcher. I started writing an encyclopedia. I stopped at the letter A, after maybe two entries. But it was decided. »

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