Six UCIBIO researchers have been awarded a contract in the 2021 Individual Scientific Employment Stimulus Competition (CEEC), which is the fourth edition of this call promoted by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) for doctoral researchers in all scientific areas.
Angela Novais, Cristina Ferrás, Leonor Morgado and Ana Pina were granted the category of Assistant Researchers, and Carla Gonçalves and Maria Valente awarded Junior Researchers positions. The six UCIBIO researchers are part of the 55% of the women candidates selected in the 4th edition of the competition.
The results announced by FCT indicate that 3730 applications were evaluated by 25 international panels, of which 1742 obtained a grade equal or higher than 8 (in a 1 to 10 scale). The 400 applications selected for employment contracts for researchers holding doctoral degrees in all scientific areas represent a financial investment of more than 119 million euros.
Angela Novais, researcher at the BacT_Drugs Lab at UCIBIO-Porto, will develop a project that is designed as contribution to one of the most relevant Public Health problems of the 21th century, the worldwide increase in bacteria resistant to last therapeutic options. This problem has mainly been addressed by genomics-based studies which have been insufficient to clarify molecular features conditioning pathogenesis and persistence of certain widespread bacterial populations. This project aims to bridge this gap by identifying surface glycans bacterial signatures that are determinant for bacterial evolution, virulence and host/environmental persistence. The identification of discriminatory molecular features of main nosocomial pathogens will be used as markers for further development of diagnostic tools for detection of critical bacterial pathogens. This knowledge can ultimately support targeted vaccine development, faster and accurate diagnosis tools and/or alternative therapeutics, and improve the capacity of health professionals to control to control infections caused by critical nosocomial pathogens.
Carla Gonçalves, researcher at the Yeast Genomics Lab at UCIBIO-NOVA, will explore the microbial dynamics in the floral environment by focusing on both the yeast and bacterial communities. These microbes seem to have found similar strategies to adapt to this particular habitat in the course of evolution: by changing their metabolism to make the most efficient use of the nutrients available in the floral niche, and by developing mutually beneficial relationships with the bees.
By exposing the processes of convergent adaptation in these microbes, I aim to provide important clues of their role in their ecological context and, specifically, of their association with the endangered bee community. This integrative knowledge will hopefully contribute to outline strategies to fight the global decline of bee populations.
Cristina Ferrás, researcher at the Toxicology Lab at UCIBIO-Porto, aims to study energy metabolism in the context of mitosis of normal and cancer cells, given that in spite of several decades of intense cell cycle research, the implications of cell metabolism and energy levels during mitosis for cancer remain largely unexplored. This project will contribute extensively to understand how cells with different metabolic status will perform during mitosis, either by providing an opportunity for error correction or by determining the ultimate cell fate (cell survival or death). Cristina Ferrás’s project, by integrating cell metabolism and mitosis in cancer, will bring a new direction toward a better understanding of the complexity of cancer. This can help to identify potentially druggable targets and to allow the development of novel chemotherapeutics for fighting cancer.
Leonor Morgado, researcher at the Biochemistry and Bioenergetics of Heme Proteins Lab at UCIBIO-NOVA, will develop the research Project entitled “RedoxMaze – Understanding bacterial extracellular electron transfer for sustainable bio-based solutions” aiming to structurally and functionally characterize Geobacter sulfurreducens’ proteins from different cellular localizations and map their specific interactions using complementary biophysical techniques. The expected results aim to clarify the bacterium extracellular electron transfer pathways, as a platform to engineer microorganisms to improve extracellular electron transfer based biotechnological applications. The development of these applications will have a direct impact in the bioremediation and bioenergy fields, contributing to a sustainable bioeconomy.
Maria Valente, researcher at the Drug Targets and Biomarkers Lab at UCIBIO-Porto, will follow her wish to find natural-based and sustainable alternatives to synthetic drugs, she pursued a collaboration with the major winemaking company in Portugal, Sogrape Vinhos S.A., and set herself to repurpose an industrial waste product for the validation of phenolic-rich compounds with beneficial potential on renal disease. With this project, Maria João hopes to develop effective, inexpensive, and all-accessible therapeutic approaches, envisioning the improvement of health and general wellbeing of renal patients.
Ana Pina was a researcher at the Biomolecular Engineering Lab at UCIBIO-NOVA until October 2021, and applied to the 2021 CEEC as an UCIBIO researcher. She is currently at ITQB-NOVA leading a new independent research lab (Bioinspired Peptide Systems lab).
Get to know more about the five UCIBIO awardees
Angela Novais obtained a graduation degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2004, and the PhD degree in Microbiology in 2008 by Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain. She has been consecutively supported by national and international entities (Marie Curie IEF (FCT, ESCMID, U. Porto) to support research on Clinical Microbiology, and particularly Antimicrobial Resistance. Her work contributed to clarify the pathogenicity and drivers of multidrug resistant bacteria, and the development of quick and cost-effective methods for their diagnosis in applications transferred to the field (Blue-Carba, IR Bactyping) through the support of technology transfer programs (HiTech, BIP Proof). Scientific and international recognition is supported by >55 articles published in journals of high impact (>80% Q1/D1) in Microbiology/Infectious Diseases and >100 oral/poster communications, including >15 invited lectures, in prestigious congresses and institutions. She is an experienced supervisor since 2011 (20 PhD/MSc/BSc, graduation), and currently an invited assistant professor at CESPU/IUCS university. She integrates relevant Microbiology societies (ESCMID, SPM), study groups (ESGEM), organizing and scientific committees (IMMEM, Summer School, Microbiotec21) and evaluation panels (PhD, Master, projects, journals). She is also committed with outreach activities towards healthcare professionals, companies and the general public, the latter through co-implementation of service-learning MicroMundo@UPorto initiative.
Carla Gonçalves is an evolutionary biologist who has been working at the interface between experimental work on fungal genetics and physiology and in silico work on genomics. She has been particularly focused on the study of the evolution of metabolism in fungi, more specifically in a peculiar group of yeasts associated with the floral environment.
Cristina Ferrás graduated in Biology from the University of Aveiro in 2001. In 2007 She concluded her PhD in human biology at the FMUP (University of Porto). During this period of her research on the molecular mechanisms involved in male infertility she did internships at the Karolinska Institute (Sweden) and at LUMC (Netherlands). Then, Cristina did two post docs in different research fields (DNA damage responses and mitosis) at the LUMC and at IBMC (University of Porto), respectively. In 2015 Cristina got an FCT investigator grant to study transcription in the context of mitosis.
Leonor Morgado is a PostDoctoral Fellow at the Biochemistry and Bioenergetics of Heme Proteins Lab at UCIBIO FCT-NOVA. She completed the PhD in Biochemistry from NOVA University Lisbon in 2012 and was awarded a L’Oréal Portugal Medal of Honor for Women in Science in the same year. In 2013, she moved to the Biozentrum, University Basel, Switzerland for a Postdoctoral position to study highly complex proteins involved in the outer membrane protein biogenesis of Gram-negative bacteria, using different biophysical methods with special focus on NMR. In 2017 Leonor returned to Portugal to work at UCIBIO, with a postdoctoral grant to study membrane proteins from Geobacter. In 2021 she was a awarded an FCT Exploratory Project.
Maria Valente is a Biochemist from Porto, with a PhD in Toxicology, which has dedicated her postdoctoral studies to the field of Nephrology. Her work has tackled renal failure from different points of view, from the study of biomarkers of kidney disease, the assessment of relevant nephrotoxins, and, more recently, to the field of drug discovery.
Ana Pina graduated in Applied Chemistry-Biotechnology and obtained her MSc, in Biotechnology, at the NOVA School of Science and Technology (FCT-NOVA), in 2008. She did her PhD in Biotechnology, in 2013, with a thesis on the combination of Peptide & Protein Engineering and combinatorial chemistry towards new affinity pairs tag-receptors for protein purification, with advisors Cecília Roque (leader of the Biomolecular Engineering Lab at UCIBIO-NOVA) and Chris Lowe (University of Cambridge, UK). In her post-doc, Ana led a project in a partnership between UCIBIO-NOVA and the Advanced Science Research Center of the City, University of New York. She then became a junior researcher at FCT NOVA. Ana Pina received several awards, namely the “Young Investigator Award” (Hoffman-La Roche, 2009) and a Research Fund award (2019) from the Royal Society of Chemistry. Ana Pina has moved recently to ITQB-NOVA to establish a new independent research group (Bioinspired Peptide Systems lab).