National Postdoc Awareness Week (NPAW) from September 21-25 aims to recognize the significant contributions that postdoctoral scholars make to research and discovery.
Postdocs in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology are an essential part of our research that we like to celebrate every week. As we navigate this year’s new way of learning and researching, we know that the hard work of our postdocs will help get us to where we need to be.
To celebrate the importance of their research, we spoke with three M&I Postdoctoral Fellows: Tomas Richardson-Sanchez, Hashem Etayash and Laura Navas. These researchers share a bit about who they are, what they research and why they love what they do.
Murphy & Gaynor labs
As a lover of everything outdoors, Tomas enjoys the variety of a constantly changing schedule.
His research focuses on a Campylobacter jejuni gene cluster, which is believed to be important for iron acquisition during human infection. C. jejuni is a leading cause of bacterial gastroenteritis worldwide, and a deeper understanding of the role that these genes play could provide new insights into C. jejuni pathogenesis and inform antimicrobial drug design. His current postdoc work integrates molecular biology, microbial genetics, structural biology and drug design as approaches towards better understanding this C. jejuni gene cluster.
A recipient of the 2019 Research Trainee Award (a fellowship from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research) to support world class health research in BC, Tomas also won the Best Flash Presentation Award at the BioMetals 2020 international web symposium for presenting this work on genes relating to iron uptake in Campylobacter jejuni!
“Generally, my research career has focused on bacterial iron acquisition and metabolism, and my PhD (at the University of Sydney in Australia) focused on repurposing bacterial iron chelators (named siderophores) as therapeutic agents (anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and diagnostic imaging agents).”
The recipient of a 2018 UBC Killam Fellowship and a Research Trainee Award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR), Hashem loves being a scientist because he is constantly fascinated by innovations and discoveries.
His research mainly focuses on utilizing a variety of chemical and pharmaceutical approaches to optimize both biological and physicochemical properties of antimicrobial host defence peptides in order to circumvent their limitations and enhance their therapeutic potentials.
“In the field of antimicrobial drug discovery, I see the biggest challenge is the way bacteria respond to medications; they spread fast, multiply quickly in large numbers, and they come up with new mechanisms to resist antibiotics very quickly,” shares Hashem. “Bacterial resistance is the biggest challenge, and I doubt we will put an end to the battle against it.”
In 2018, Laura Navas received the PROLAB award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology to travel from Argentina to UBC for a 3-month experience at the Eltis lab. She loved the lab, work environment and the city of Vancouver so much that she decided to stay – where she continues researching, enjoying outdoor activities, and sharing traditional Argentinean food with friends.
At the lab, her main area of research is the lignin degradation by bacteria, integrating diverse disciplines such as microbiology, molecular biology, enzymology and protein biochemistry.
Lignin is the most abundant aromatic biopolymer in the biosphere and its sustainable valorization is essential to the success of next generation biorefineries. Her research aims to explain bacterial activities that transform lignin components from different feedstocks and develop biocatalysts to upgrade lignin by converting it into commodity chemicals. This way, agricultural and industrial wastes rich on lignin (from pulp and paper mills for example) can be valorized, reducing the environmental footprint.