Why I attend all the talks: Prof Racaniello

This week I was lucky to meet Prof. Vicent Racaniello, who is a professor at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. He has been working on virology for about 40 years, which really impresses me (the time, not the topic). His talk was by far the better attended talk of this seminar series and the way Prof Racaniello structured it was very simple, with a very catchy title “One brain, three viruses, and one podcast”: he gave a historical perspective of his life work and dedicated quite some time to talk about science communication and why it is important. This, non-research aspect of his work is incredible time-consuming and according to himself not always brings the expected return. However, Prof Racaniello is happy if he manages to get 10 followers per travel, which I find very humbling coming from a person that has been doing science communication for 14 years, hosts five podcasts, has one blog and is present in all social media.

A few of us stayed for lunch with the speaker: listen to Prof Racaniello talk was very comforting as most of his ideas resonated with mine, in great opposition to those of the established scientists I have around me most of the days.

I did not know Prof Racaniello, his scientific work, or his science communication work before last Wednesday, but now I know which podcast I will be listening to on those long sessions in the FACS machine.

Around and around until falling in love again with academia

I have decided not too long ago that I was going to pursue my career in academia. After a tough PhD, I have to say that this sounded the craziest idea that I could have… So, how did I get into this decision? After working a while as a microbiologist analyst, I realized that routine is not my thing. I finally understood that is the ability to use my critical thinking, asking questions and improving every day, which drives me and makes me happy. Thus, my decision was easier than it seems and as someone told me recently, I already did my PhD grief.
Importantly, I do not regret the decision to try a “kind” of industry in Portugal as I learned a lot about myself! (I say a “kind of” because I know from many friends that working in industry can also be challenging, which was not my reality). I can much easier deal with the pain of no results than the pain of having the same routine every week. Thus, I don´t feel as these 7 months were a waste of time! On the contrary, I realized that industry job is not what I idealized and I have now a different perspective of what I want to do career wise!
Therefore, I have recently joined a new lab! If I may give an advice, go ahead and endorse projects that you think suits you! Even if they don’t, you will always learn something from them!

A Ciência ao serviço da História (Parte II)

Num dos meus últimos textos, abordei um exemplo em que o uso de técnicas
disponíveis em Sincrotrão contribuiu para o avançar do conhecimento da História.
Vamos, hoje, ser totalmente inovadores e abordar um outro exemplo em que o uso de
técnicas disponíveis em Sincrotrão contribuiu para o avançar do conhecimento da
História (realce-se a riqueza estilístico-linguística empregue neste parágrafo).
No segundo quartel do século XIX, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre desenvolveu
o processo fotográfico que viria a ficar conhecido por daguerreótipo e que foi
apresentado em 1839 na Academia das Ciências de França. Usando uma placa de cobre
coberta por prata para o registo da imagem, os daguerreótipos são importantes
documentos que contribuem para a interpretação dos costumes, personagens e paisagens do quotidiano da época.
Vários exemplares intactos chegaram até aos nossos dias, mas vários outros
sofreram danos causados pela implacável passagem do tempo nomeadamente por
fenómenos de corrosão (tarnish em inglês). Torna-se, pois, interessante desenvolver
métodos capazes de restaurar daguerreótipos perdidos possibilitando a referida análise
histórica.
Este foi o ponto de partida para o trabalho desenvolvido por uma equipa de
investigação canadiana e que resultou numa publicação na revista Scientific Reports em
Junho de 2018 após publicações preliminares no ano anterior. Usando dois
daguerreótipos danificados da Galeria Nacional do Canadá, datados de cerca de 1850,
os autores procuraram identificar a composição química da corrosão com recurso a
técnicas disponíveis nos sincrotrões CLS (Canadian Light Source em Saskatoon,
Canadá) e CHESS (Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source em Ithaca, Nova Iorque,
Estados Unidos).
Como que por magia, a verdade é que os daguerreótipos analisados, antes “m
branco”, revelaram o seu conteúdo (retratos de uma mulher e de um homem) após o
tratamento. Vale a pena consultar o artigo para perceber em detalhe a ciência por detrás
desta “magia” que, de forma telegráfica (uma expressão do passado que talvez hoje se
possa traduzir por tweet), assenta na procura e identificação de mercúrio (usado para
revelar as imagens originais) por micro fluorescência de raios-X.

Facilmente se percebe as potencialidades deste método não-invasivo e não-
destrutivo na recuperação de antigos documentos históricos o que será certamente uma
mais-valia na interpretação do passado. Para finalizar, deixo o link onde o artigo pode
ser encontrado: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-27714-5.

Paying ode to Drosophila

As soon as I joined the new lab, I was invited to attend the Portuguese Drosophila Meeting. The meeting was hold in Tomar, center of Portugal, and combined people from different institutes. The major goal of this meeting every year is gathering together the Portuguese scientific community that uses Drosophila melanogaster as a model system, and share expertise: from new tools to new methodologies.

The Portuguese Drosophila Meeting was casual with a good amount of time to socialize. The talks were as broad as you can imagine, from immunology, to developmental biology, population genetics, host-pathogen interaction, neuroscience and oncobiology.

As usual, in this kind of meetings, we have international speakers giving amazing talks. However, what catch up my attention was one of the speaker’s main message: keep spreading the word and show how powerful Drosophila model is. It’s incredible but true, Drosophila is getting forgotten. How many of the new raising scientists know that, for example, the Hippo signaling pathway was first discovered and characterized in flies? Drosophila is the most well understood model organism, studied for more than a century. Its genome is smaller, known since March 2000 and there are libraries of RNAi for all your favorite genes. Moreover, you can manipulate their growth rate by maintaining them in different temperatures (ranging between 18 ºC and 29 ºC). Did you ever try to mutate/insert a gene? In Drosophila is so much easier than mice (imagine an entire year reduced to one month, with amazing genetic tools to know if your gene was inserted or deleted!). And for the sceptics, the fruit fly and humans are not as distant as you can think! Many physiological, neurological and biological properties are maintained between mammals and fruit flies, with about 75 % of the genes that cause diseases in humans have functional homologs in Drosophila!

Finally, you can find more reasons why use the fly as a research model in:

https://www.yourgenome.org/facts/why-use-the-fly-in-research

http://modencode.sciencemag.org/drosophila/introduction

 

Notas soltas sobre Conferências

Para a temática “Conferências, Encontros, Congressos e afins”, resolvi eleger não um evento em particular, mas sim uma série de eventos que dão pelo nome de ENURS – Encontro Nacional de Utilizadores de Radiação de Sincrotrão.

Com realização anual, o primeiro ENURS realizou-se em 2012 na FCT/UNL – passando, desde aí, por Lisboa, Leiria, Coimbra, Oeiras, Alfragide voltando este ano à casa de partida – e teve por objectivo divulgar a investigação baseada em fontes de radiação de sincrotrão realizada em Portugal e aproximar a respectiva comunidade que, em traços gerais, se distribui pelas ciências dos materiais e ciências da vida.

De curta duração (por norma, um dia), o ENURS apresenta duas principais “partes”: comunicações orais de convidados de vários sincrotrões europeus (nomeadamente ESRF, Diamond e Alba) e comunicações orais dos participantes nacionais. Naturalmente que as questões científicas constituem o cerne das apresentações embora alguns aspectos mais técnicos e/ou burocráticos sejam também abordados pelos membros dos sincrotrões (por exemplo, especificações das beamlines e condições de acesso).

Há, claro, ainda tempo para a tradicional sessão de posters que, por norma, se prolongam durante o almoço e pausas entre conferências (vulgo coffee breaks). Os autores vão circulando entre os posters sem um tempo próprio para apresentar o seu trabalho e estabelecendo um contacto directo com os vários delegados (uma designação que sempre achei muito chique para designar os participantes).

Acaba por ser um encontro útil permitindo um contacto permanente não apenas com colegas, mas também com as últimas novidades dos sincrotrões cuja regular utilização é essencial para o desenvolvimento da investigação levada a cabo de Norte a Sul do país. Um dos pontos fortes do ENURS acaba por ser também uma fraqueza: juntando investigadores de áreas tão diferentes, permite um contacto com temas totalmente novos cuja compreensão nem sempre é fácil. Talvez se possa considerar a possibilidade de adoptar uma realização bienal embora o actual formato não seja de todo descabido.

E pronto, feito este breve apanhado das últimas sete edições, resta esperar pela oitava a realizar no Porto em 2019.

Conferences

I have very recently been to a conference in Australia. As a PhD student, attending conferences is a big perk: I get to go out of my department bubble and see what is done and more importantly how it is done in other labs. In my specific case, it’s even a bigger advantage as I am the only person studying animal models of multiple sclerosis, and the only person studying so many innate immune receptors in my building (and, as far as it feels, in this city). I got some interesting warnings regarding the technical difficulties of my research and I have learned a few things that in hindsight are not that new but I had never given much thought about.

I have attended this conference series before. In fact, I have been there for the last 3 editions: in Germany, Israel and Australia. Organisation wise it does not differ much from event to event and the poster sessions are also always quite a mess. Small rooms, no space between posters, too many posters per session, you name it. This time I had to pitch my poster just before my allocation session. Where did this fail? There were three groups pitching at the same time, in the same hallway, during apero. Regardless to say that 1) no one could hear each other, 2) no one make an effort to go watch the pitches. I felt quite useless there. No feedback on the pitch either.

The positive aspect of this conference was location. Most people find it very far to travel to Australia from Europe, therefore most Americans who would collaborate with European labs also did not attend. This brought the challenge of finding topics and speakers to fill in the program. Most new topics were presented by Canadian and Australian researchers. There are a few interesting things going on, specially when it comes to the immune component of psychiatric and other neurological diseases. Will stay tuned to this in the following years.