Spotlight on… SEM Jaime Ferran Awardee


The Spanish Society for Microbiology (SEM) who are co-hosting the Congress with us this year, offered the Jaime Ferran Award to recognize the outstanding achievements of a young microbiology researcher from SEM. SEM is one of our Member Societies.

We are delighted to share the news that the winner of this Award is Dr. Felipe Cava Valenciano, who is the Principal Investigator at Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS) at Umeå University, Sweden. His prize consists of €2000 and he will be giving a talk at the closing ceremony of the Congress this July. We caught up with Felipe to find out more about how the Award has impacted him and his future plans.

Congratulations on winning SEM’s Jaime Ferran Award! Could you give us an insight into your research?

“My laboratory at the Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS-Umeå University) uses an arsenal of advanced analytical technologies and cell imaging tools, combined with genetics, biochemistry, bioinformatics and molecular biology to study how bacteria regulate their cell wall to adapt to (and infect) the host in some of the most relevant bacterial models. Given that the cell wall is one of the major “Achilles heels” of bacteria, we hope our research can provide answers to scientific fundamental questions and improve our options to combat infectious diseases.

One of the flagships of our research is an integrative research program we have recently launched to uncover and exploit the unnoticed chemical variability of the cell wall in the Kingdom Bacteria: The MUREINome. This investigation is imperative for a realistic understanding of cell wall biology in nature, in particular its role in environmental adaptation and signalling. Gathered data will be the basis of the first comprehensive bacterial cell wall database and ad hoc software. Such a database will be highly relevant to properly understand bacterial relations with neighboring organisms at all levels, and their adaptation to environmental challenges. Moreover, this research might lead to the discovery of new metabolic and regulatory pathways with great potential in the development of new species-specific antimicrobial therapies. This is the first time that a project of such magnitude has been actually launched, and therefore it will promote collaborative networks amongst fairly unconnected disciplines in life sciences, both in academia and in the public health field.”

How do you see this Award helping your scientific journey in the future?

“The Jaime Ferran award is the greatest recognition to a microbiologist in Spain. It undoubtedly puts a quality stamp on my career and boosts the international visibility of my lab. Personally, it gives me an extra shot of motivation to keep the hard work up for breaking new grounds in microbiology. I am extremely thankful to SEM for this prize and would like also to knowledge the enormous quality of the other candidates that were also nominated this year.”

SEM is one of our Member Societies and members also benefit from being a part of our network. How have you benefited from being part of this network? 

“Last year we had a postdoc from Spain funded with a FEMS research grant visiting our lab in Sweden for 3 months. This grant permitted to efficiently perform key experiments for our collaboration that otherwise would have taken a lot of time. Additionally, these initiatives are a unique opportunity for students and postdocs to benefit from interdisciplinary environments, learn new methodologies and interconnect the European community of microbiologists.”

What key message do you want Congress 2017 attendees to take home from your closing ceremony talk?

“Well, my talk will be a good example of stories that do not happen in a straight line. At times, science is a bit unpredictable and the best projects could be coming from data that we initially do not fully understand. I believe it is fundamental to pay careful attention and not discard results simply because they do not fit with what we expect. Sometimes we should let curiosity be the driving force that guides our experiments. Second of all, I hope the audience appreciates that the chemical complexity of the cell wall is far from what was originally thought from studying a few bacterial models. Our global kingdom-wide studies should reveal many unknown mechanisms of bacteria to adapt to challenging environments.”

You can catch up with Dr. Felipe Cava Valenciano at the Congress this July. Find out more about his talk using our interactive scientific programme.


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