New EAM Member: Prof. Mariana Pinho


At the end of 2019, the European Academy of Microbiology (EAM) elected eleven new members from across different European countries and disciplines.

New EAM Members are:

This month, we spoke with Prof. Mariana Pinho at the NOVA University Lisbon (Portugal) about her research, and the profession of a microbiologist.

What are you currently researching?

My group works on bacterial cell division, with a focus on understanding the complex organization of bacterial cells. We use as a model organism the bacterial pathogen Staphylococcus aureus, one of the most common causes of bacterial infections in humans. Therefore, as a parallel line of research, we use our knowledge on the basic cell biology of this pathogen to understand its mechanisms of resistance to antibiotics and the modes of action of new antimicrobial compounds.

What has been the most unusual or surprising finding in this line of research?

A few years ago, we started using super resolution microscopy to study Staphylococcus aureus. S. aureus cells are quite small, approximately 1 mm in diameter, only four times the resolution of conventional epifluorescence microscopy. Therefore, the development of super resolution techniques allowed us to see morphology changes and dynamic processes in live cells, that were not accessible before. This led us to disprove many of the previous assumptions on how this pathogen grows and divides, so we had surprise after surprise while doing these studies.

Picture: Staphylococcus aureus cells sequentially labelled with fluorescent D-amino acids (FDAAs) derivatized with fluorophores of different colours (blue, green and red), which are incorporated at sites of active peptidoglycan synthesis, thereby creating a virtual time-lapse where the “history” of peptidoglycan synthesis can be seen in each cell. Cells were observed by Structured Illumination Microscopy (SIM).

What aspect of this research have you most enjoyed?

I guess as most of my colleagues, I get the most enjoyment from those rare moments when you suddenly realise that scattered data that did not make much sense before, comes together in a way that allows you to understand something new.

What is in your opinion a scientific development microbiologists should keep an eye on?

As with many areas of biology, studies of bacterial communities, particularly those inside a host, were initially very descriptive. However, we are now starting to learn how to manipulate these communities for the benefit of the host. I think over the next years we will start to better understand how microbial communities function to influence the phenotype of the host, to regulate disease susceptibility or to impact disease progression. And that we will also learn about the impact of the host genotype, which may explain why the same viral or bacterial infection can have such different outcomes in different people.

What information, either related to the science or the professional path of a microbiologist, do you wish you had known at the beginning of your career?

Maybe to know the importance of building a good network of colleagues. I was relatively shy during my PhD when I went to conferences, and had to force myself to talk to the speakers. But over time some of those meetings became almost a gathering of friends. Knowing what others are doing, knowing whom to ask for advice when you venture into a new field or for feedback on your work is really essential for a successful scientific career.

About Professor Mariana Pinho

Prof. Mariana Pinho

Mariana Pinho graduated in Applied Chemistry from the Faculty of Sciences and Technology, Universidade Nova de Lisboa. She then moved to New York to work on antibiotic resistance with Profs Alexander Tomasz and Hermínia de Lencastre, at the Rockefeller University. After her PhD, in 2001, she decided to enter the emerging field of bacterial cell biology with the specific aim of bringing a new cell biology approach into antibiotic resistance studies, and joined the group of Prof. Jeff Errington at the University of Oxford. Four years later Mariana returned to Portugal to start her group at the Instituto de Tecnologia Química e Biologica, Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Her research is focused on understanding, at a molecular level, the organization and the temporal and spatial regulation of bacterial cell division, as well as to integrate this information for a better understanding of antibiotic resistance mechanisms in Staphylococcus aureus. She was awarded an ERC Starting Grant in 2013 and an ERC Consolidator Grant in 2018 to work on these topics.

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About the EAM: The European Academy of Microbiology (EAM) is an initiative of the Federation of European Microbiological Societies (FEMS) aimed at amplifying the impact and visibility of microbiology and microbiologists in Europe. EAM includes leading microbiologists in their own fields and is dedicated to promote excellence in microbiology through targeted programs and activities at the edges of the discipline, and communication to scientists, stakeholders and to the public.

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