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Peter Tijssen, a professor emeritus still very active in the scientific community

July 6, 2023 | Alexandra Madoyan Trautmann

Update : July 6, 2023

Professor Tijssen, who has devoted almost forty years of his career to INRS, is still the author of publications in prestigious journals.

Peter Tijssen continues his role as a scholar and knowledge spreader to students at INRS. Photo : Christian Fleury

Professor Tijssen’s dynamism will not be curbed by retirement. His passion for the research field to which he has devoted his life, molecular virology, continues to drive him—he affectionately calls it “his hobby.”

After a decade as a researcher at the Université de Montréal, Peter Tijssen joined the ranks of INRS’s Armand-Frappier Santé Biotechnologie Research Centre in 1985, formerly known as the Institut Armand Frapper (IAF). He would dedicate more than four decades to the institution, which named him Professor Emeritus in 2018 (in French only). Professor Tijssen likes to recall the excellent years he spent with the Québec research and training establishment.

“INRS offers a fantastic environment for faculty members and students, who form a big family. I have fond memories of my colleagues and my teams of young scientists. Exchanges are the foundation of research, which is the sum of a group of people and a chain of shared thoughts.”

– Peter Tijssen, Professor Emeritus and expert in molecular virology.

An ongoing commitment to young talent and research

At almost 80, Peter Tijssen continues his role as a scholar and knowledge spreader to students at INRS.  

He likes to convey the deeply human dimension of research—with colleagues on the one hand, and in the service of the public on the other. “Research must have a concrete objective for society,” he emphasizes. “When we study the structure of a virus, for example, we can develop a drug that is like a key in a lock. Each virus has its own key to recovery.”

In his most recent article, chosen as Editor’s Highlight and published on June 14 in the leading journal Nature Communications alongside American colleagues including his former student Hanh T. Pham, Professor Tijssen and his team have focused on the domestic cricket, identifying a parvovirus called Acheta domesticus segmented densovirus (AdSDV), which has the particularity of presenting bipartite genomes, i.e., with two DNA segments in separate virions.

These results open new avenues, especially for basic parvovirus research since multipartite viruses can now be created to study viral functions and for gene therapy.

The cricket industry is currently worth several billion dollars worldwide. These results are therefore of undeniable interest to this economic sphere, since the AdSDV virus studied by Professor Tijssen’s team appears ubiquitous in pet crickets, which are mainly bred to feed domestic lizards and snakes.

This article joins an exhaustive list of publications in the last year, including one in the renowned journal J. Virol in 2022 and another in 2020 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) based in the USA.

Visibility beyond borders

Recognized by the international scientific community for his contributions to the fields of virology, immunology, and biotechnology, Professor Tijssen has authored five books—including one translated into Japanese!—and over 200 articles published in international journals. His pioneering work on parvoviruses enabled him to join the International Committee for the Taxonomy of Viruses from 1989 to the present day, including six years as Chairman of the Parvoviridae Study Committee.

Professor Tijssen, originally from the Netherlands, has placed great importance on collaboration with his peers around the world. From the 1980s, he taught several courses at Fudan University in Shanghai, along with two other INRS professors. China recognized this close collaboration by awarding him the important Jiangsu Friendship Award in 2016, after having been appointed professor by Jiangsu International University in 2013. Peter Tijssen has also been asked to give Cleveringa lectures in Calgary and Ottawa in 2022, a prestigious invitation initiated by Leiden University.

A true mentor throughout his prolific career, Peter Tijssen has accompanied students from the four corners of the globe, many of whom joined INRS specifically to be part of his team. Many of his alumni now hold prominent positions in both the public and private sectors. “I have been extremely lucky. It is the students who make a laboratory,” concludes the researcher.