Meet FEMS Research and Training grantee Marta Carolina Afonso Lages
Research and Training Grants are meant to assist early career scientists in pursuing research and training at a European host institution in another country than their own country of residence.
Marta Carolina Afonso Lages: Department of Microbiology and Parasitology, Institute of Aquaculture, University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Host supervisor and host laboratory: Ana do Vale, i3S, Fish Immunology & Vaccionology, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal
Dates: 10 May 2021 to 10 August 2021
FEMS Member Society Membership: Spanish Society for Microbiology
I am a PhD student at the Microbiology and Parasitology department, University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). Currently my research is focused on the study of siderophores, relevant virulence factors of many bacteria but with special interest in marine pathogens. I graduated in biosciences with a specialization in Microbiology and consequently I enrolled in a master’s degree in applied microbiology. During the bachelor and Master thesis, I had the opportunity of doing research in different themes, Type III secretion system (Collège de France) and Cell division (University of Groningen) which greatly made me improve not only my communication skills but also microbiological applied techniques. These were great opportunities to be in an international environment and to evolve as a person and as a scientist because it gave me a strong background to pursue a career in research. I considered myself a resilient and motivated person with a special interest in the study of virulence factors.
I did the research/training visit at the Fish Immunology and vaccinology group, Instituto de Investigação e Inovação em Saúde, Universidade do Porto, Portugal. The goal of the visit was to complement the experimental approach developed at my home university by investigating DNA-protein interactions. The transcriptional activator PbtA is the main modulator of the irp-HPI that encodes the siderophore piscibactin. However, no direct approach had been conducted to investigate the direct interaction between PbtA and the target genes whose expression it induces. Therefore, PbtA was purified, and the interaction was evaluated in an electrophoretic mobility shift assay. Despite the difficult conditions faced that made me postponed the research visit several times (due to the lockdown), I am grateful I could go, and I was kindly welcomed in the host group.
My PhD program encourages the students to do international research stays and the FEMS research and training grant was the perfect way to support the visit. Firstly, I wanted to achieve the defined goals for the experimental approach. The goals were in part reached however we faced some challenges during protein purification. As the total protein PbtA is unstable, we were not able to purify it. Nonetheless, we had a contingency plan and we purified both domains that constitute the total protein. This allowed their use to investigate DNA-protein interactions. Moreover, the grant allowed me to work in a subject that I had never done before. I had the opportunity to take a more biochemical approach to a subject. My institution gives an additional acknowledgment to all the thesis with an international stay like mine. In addition, this international mention will be an advantage in my curriculum. This stay allowed me to work in a different area and learn different methods.
I knew about FEMS before I applied for the grant because I attended the FEMS Congress in 2017. Besides I am a member of the Spanish Microbiology Society which is a Member of FEMS.”