ESR 15 Beatriz Silva, University of Exeter, Exeter

Prof. Michael Schrader Lab, University of Exeter, Exeter, United Kingdom

Supervisor: Prof. Michael Schrader

I am a Portuguese girl, born and raised in the wonderful city of Oporto, in the north of Portugal. However, I started my journey in Higher Education a bit more south at University of Beira Interior, Portugal, where I completed my BSc in Biomedical Sciences. There I gained knowledge in a different range of scientific subjects, from mathematics and programming to microbiology and genetics. These allowed me to have different perspectives on future career possibilities. My passion for science and research per se, led me to apply to the Master in Molecular Biomedicine programme, at the University of Aveiro. There I did my master degree and my master thesis about “The interplay between peroxisomes and cytomegalovirus”. This thesis was focused on the alterations of peroxisomal proteins upon a HCMV infection, under the supervision of Dr. Daniela Ribeiro in Institute for Biomedicine, University of Aveiro. The development of this work helped me to obtain knowledge and experience in laboratory skills such as cell culture handling, fluorescence microscopy and general molecular biology and biochemistry methods. During my master thesis, I had the opportunity to go to Dr. Markus Islinger’s lab at Center for Biomedicine and Technology Mannheim, Germany for 5 months, which gave me some background in handling in vivo models and isolation of organelles, as well as the chance to perform several biochemical analyses, such as RT-qPCR, and to improve my microscopy analysis by using confocal microscope. My interest in peroxisomes, their importance in the cell and the little knowledge about their function made me to apply to this Marie Curie Fellowship within PERICO (Peroxisomes Interaction and Communication) in Prof. Michael Schrader’s lab. With this fellowship, I intend to contribute to increasing the knowledge within the peroxisome field, given their importance in health and disease.


Project Title:  Membrane contact sites to improve cell performance

My project focuses the study of peroxisome-organelle membrane contact sites, in terms of their physiological role and how they can be modulated to improve cell performance. Peroxisomes are dynamic membrane bound organelles, which have important metabolic and physiological functions. It is necessary for them to communicate and interact with other organelles, including the ER, mitochondria, lipid droplets and lysosomes to exchange metabolites and coordinate cellular responses. This contact is frequently established by membrane contact sites, where the membranes of two organelles are physically tethered to enable rapid transfer of small molecules, allowing organelle communication and coordination of cellular functions and hence human health. Michael Schrader’s lab identified the first mammalian tethers between the ER and the peroxisomes, which are involved in lipid transfer between both organelles. In the last few years, progress has been made on peroxisome-organelle interactions; however the physiological roles of these interactions in the regulation of organelle cooperation are still poorly studied. Therefore, in this project we aim to unveil the physiological role of peroxisome-organelle interactions and to identify modulators of these contacts to improve cell performance in pathophysiological conditions. To do that, we propose to validate fluorescent-based reporter systems to analyze peroxisome-organelle (mitochondria, ER) interactions. These tools will allow us to determine physiological conditions which modulate organelle contacts, to perform compound screening to identify modulators of organelle contacts and to analyze the impact of modulating organelle contacts on cell performance using cell models for oxidative stress and organelle dysfunction. This project will be developed in collaboration with Dr. Marc Fransen, at University of Leuven (BE), Dr. Dominic Hoepfner at NOVARTIS (CH) and Dr. Daniel Mortensen at Omics (DK).

My scientific interest is focused on the organelle communication in human health and disease. In fact, it is important to comprehend what are the communications pathways involved in organelle-organelle interaction, since there are diseases related with an impaired communication, which leads to severe pathophysiological conditions, as for example neurological disorders. In my opinion, it is crucial the study of native biology, since not all is understood and a lot of progress is needed to be able to explain the big picture, the human body. Understand the molecular base of all human activity, including the protein, DNA, RNA interactions and their regulations. This project will allow me to learn new methods and couple different scientific areas as biology and chemistry, which contributes to trigger my scientific interest.


In my free time, I like to spend some quality time with my family and friends. I like to cook, which for a scientist can be easy, as you need to follow the protocol (recipe) and if necessary optimize it. I like to travel to new places and get to know new cultures and new cities, which is one of the perks of being a researcher – to be able to share your work and learn new science/techniques that is being done all around the world, get to know new people and make new contacts/partnerships.

My motivation to do science is knowing that I am studying something that is new in the field and that my findings could change the perspective of the scientific field and, even better, be able to improve someone’s life. Besides, I really enjoy doing labwork, trying new techniques/methods and learning every time a different little thing that can make it better. Even all the failed experiments, PhD evaluations and timelines are worth it, when you get a finding that will revolutionize the scientific field.

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grant number 812968