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Posted by on Oct 22, 2013 in Seminars and Discussions | 0 comments

Different experiences in fundamental science can lead to applied science

The speaker of the second seminar on Monday October 7th was Mauricio Pereira Almerão from the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS, Porto Alegre, Brazil). His goal was to show us how you can evolve from working in fundamental science to applied science by refering to his personal career.

To understand better how this change is possible, he went back to his past to explain the different choices he made. In Brazil, the bachelor lasts for four years and it can include a research period. In Mauricio’s case, he did a bachelor in Biological Science with two voluntary internships. One in the Department of Ecology and another one in the Department of Biotechnology for two months each. In addition to these internships, Brazilian students have to conduct a bachelor thesis. His topic was the morphology of Crustaceans (Aegla platensis) and more precisely a study of tegumental glands in pereiopods. After working on that topic for two years his major achievements were publicating his first paper, learning how to write a manuscript, gaining lab experience and attending scientific meetings.

Afterwards, he continued with his Master specialized in Animal Biology with a main focus on ecology, genetics and zoology. His master thesis was about the mating behavior of Aegla plastensis and parts of this work were published. Additionally, he gained first experience in teaching, as it is compulsory in Brazil during a master.

At this point of his career, his work was focused on a specific species using a fundamental approach. Then, he started a PhD on a genetical topic for four years with a sandwich year in Poitiers working on Wolbachia in South American isopods. One more time, his work was published, he gained international experience and deepened his teaching and supervising skills. He also broadened his horizon by focusing on a different research topic than previously.

After his PhD, Mauricio realized that his CV was not competitive enough to find a position in Brazil, as he did not have a well established research line. Surprisingly for him, he received an offer to do a postdoc studying microRNAs in plants. He accepted it and published few papers on that completely new topic for him. He gained knowledge in bioinformatics, biotechnology and molecular biology.

2010 was the International Year of Biodiversity in Brazil, which was when he was recruited as an environmental consultant on Brazilian freshwater crustaceans to review the list of endangered species of the IUCN. This approach allowed the IUCN to realize that 80% of the data were deficient according to a lack of insight in crustaceans. Within his second postdoc, Mauricio established an international cooperation with the University of Poitiers which has already been working on crustaceans and more precisely on crayfish. The cooperation aims at increasing the knowledge about American and Australian invasive crayfish in South America in order to protect the native endemic species. This program is running until 2015. When it started in 2012 only two persons were involved and now more than twenty researchers and students from all around the world participate.

The main reason why the two invasive crayfish species are dangerous is due to their high plasticity which means that they can adapt quickly to new environments. Moreover, they outcompete the native species and can be a vector of the crayfish plague. So, crayfish need to be studied in order to propose a good conservation strategy to protect the biodiversity of South America. Within this program, Mauricio found his research line: conservation biology. The scientific approach utilized in this cooperation program can easily be applied to other taxa as well as countries.

With this recent part of his career, Mauricio built a bridge between fundamental science and applied science. He closed his talk by giving us advice on how to be content and successful in our careers: be persistent, talented, passionate, focused and open-minded. We would like to thank Mauricio for this interesting seminar and for the following discussion.

Janina Kypke (Germany) and Julia Migné (France)

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