Meet FEMS Research and Training grantee Nina Čuljak

26-09-22 Eleni Koursari

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.

Nina Čuljak: University of Zagreb, Faculty of Food Technology and Biotechnology, Department of Biochemical Engineering, Zagreb, Croatia.

Host supervisor and host laboratory: Prof. Paola Cescutti, PhD, Department of Life Sciences, University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy.

Dates: 14 January 2022 to 13 April 2022

FEMS Member Society Membership: Croatian Microbiological Society



In 2020, I was employed as an assistant on the project of the Croatian Science Foundation “Career Development Project for Young Researchers – Training of New Doctors of Science”, within which I enrolled in doctoral study Biotechnology and Bioprocess Engineering, Food Technology and Nutrition. I am currently working on a project “Potential therapeutic biomolecules of the next-generation probiotics” in the Laboratory for Antibiotic, Enzyme, Probiotic and Starter Cultures Technology at the Department of Biochemical Engineering. The aim of this project is to characterise lactic acid bacteria (LAB) strains, isolated from breast milk, which produce potential therapeutic biomolecules (such as S-proteins, exopolysaccharides and bacteriocins), and to examine the possibility of their application as potential „live biotherapeutic products”. I was awarded a FEMS Research & Training grant which gave me the opportunity to spend 3 months at the Department of Life Sciences at the University of Trieste (Italy), where I worked on determining the structure of exopolysaccharide isolated from LAB strain using NMR techniques. As a student, I was a member of the Student Association of the Faculty of Food Technology and Biotechnology – PROBION, and now I am a member of the Croatian Microbiological Society and the Croatian Society for Biotechnology.

The FEMS Research and Training Grant provided me with opportunity to spend 3 months at the Department of Life Sciences at the University of Trieste (Italy), in Prof. Paola Cescutti’s group. There I determined the structure of exopolysaccharides (EPS) using NMR spectroscopy. We managed to determine the main polysaccharide, but the determination of structure of the other polysaccharide is still ongoing. Besides determining the structure, I tried to optimize EPS production, since the yield was low.

Also, in Trieste I met other researchers with similar interests, from whom I learnt a lot. Some of my colleagues also received the same Grant and they had only positive things to say about their stay abroad. I wanted to expand my knowledge and to meet new people. Also, I wanted to experience life abroad. I wanted to do expand my knowledge on NMR techniques, and I managed to do that with hard work and with help of my mentors in Trieste. Also, I wanted to meet new people.

The grant gave me the opportunity to work in Italy for 3 months, with Prof. Paola Cescutti, where I did a part of my doctoral thesis related to determining the structure of exopolysaccharides. Also, it gave me the opportunity to network with new people with similar interests and allowed me to grow as a young scientist.

I knew about FEMS before applying for the grant. Some of my older colleagues were also awarded the same Grant.

FEMS already does a great job at contributing to young scientist’s career and scientific development. FEMS also encourages scientists to attend microbiology meetings to present their experimental results and to network.’’

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