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Thursday, March 30, 2023

An interview with Victoria Deneke

Victoria Deneke, a postdoc in Andi Pauli’s lab on the Vienna BioCenter, was the winner of the 2022 Society of Developmental Biology (SDB) Trainee Science Communication Award. Victoria is captivated with growing communities throughout the science world and creating alternatives for scientists from low-income international locations. We caught up with Victoria to seek out out about her outreach and communication work, in addition to her analysis profession.

The place are you initially from and when did you first get serious about science?

I used to be born and raised in San Salvador, the capital metropolis of El Salvador in Central America. While rising, I used to be fortunate sufficient to have entry to high school, and obtained an excellent schooling. After I was 18, I utilized for college locations in the US and that was once I actually picked up science academically, however I’ve all the time been within the pure world. For instance, I keep in mind being fascinated by snake scales as a baby and one in every of my favorite experiments in center faculty was to dissect a frog to review the vasculature and the superb organisation of the organism. Regardless of this early curiosity in biology, I made a decision to review chemical engineering as an undergraduate, as I believed that diploma could be extra versatile, both permitting me to return to my residence nation, or to develop elsewhere. Biology isn’t a really developed subject in El Salvador, however after my undergraduate diploma I discovered myself being drawn again to biology. I made a decision to use for umbrella PhD programmes, which provide you with entry to a broad vary of biology departments. You do rotations in several laboratories after which select one in your PhD. This was an necessary facet of the programme for me, significantly as I didn’t have a robust background in biology as an undergraduate. That’s how I ended up becoming a member of Stefano Di Talia’s lab, which was my fourth laboratory rotation. I in a short time fell in love with the analysis that was ongoing on the lab, which had simply began at Duke. I used to be one of many first two graduate college students that joined and the primary graduate scholar that joined a fruit fly venture. Throughout my rotation, I used to be imaging early Drosophila embryos, and specifically the nuclear divisions that happen within the first few hours of growth. These occasions are remarkably synchronous, and the waves of division unfold by way of the embryo. My first PhD venture was making an attempt to determine how these divisions are synchronised within the syncytial embryo. We discovered that there are waves of chemical exercise by way of cyclin dependent kinase 1 (Cdk1), and thru a mix of diffusion and constructive suggestions, these waves can synchronise the entire cytoplasm inside minutes. It was the right venture for me as a result of it was very visible – I obtained to see and make these stunning motion pictures day-after-day of my PhD! On the identical time, the venture concerned not solely organic ideas, like kinases and cell cycle regulation, but additionally ideas from physics and maths. For instance, how the sign spreads, and the dynamics and the kinetics of chemical waves. This meant I obtained to collaborate with physicists, and certainly Stefano is a physicist by coaching, so I felt this venture actually suited my engineering background.

You mentioned this was your first PhD venture, are you able to inform us what you labored on for the remainder of your PhD?

For the second half of my PhD, I made a decision to take a look at the position of cytoplasmic flows in spreading nuclei within the Drosophila embryo. So, initially these nuclei are all clustered in a single a part of the embryo after which there are stunning contractions and subsequent flows that emerge and seem to maneuver the nuclei. The regulation of the contractions is fascinating, and we assumed they have to be tightly regulated for the nuclei to develop into so uniformly spaced by way of self-organisation. I began out by making motion pictures of each the nuclei and the flows, making an attempt to correlate these two actions. I went on to make use of optogenetics to perturb the contractions and monitor how that impacts the nuclear spreading. One other stunning, visible venture the place we actually benefited from the applying of quantitative biology strategies. We tracked the cytoplasm and the nuclei and established quantitative relationships between these two actions to construct a mannequin. From the mannequin, we made predictions that we then examined experimentally. I cherished each of those initiatives, they allowed me to mix each imaging methods and mathematical modelling, to handle questions on elementary developmental processes. General, I couldn’t have picked a greater place for my PhD given my background and the type of biology that excites me.

On your postdoc, you moved to Andi Pauli’s lab in Vienna, Austria, are you able to inform us about this transfer and your analysis within the Pauli lab?

Within the closing 12 months of my PhD, I began studying extra broadly to seek out different scientific matters that curiosity me, and I all the time gave the impression to be coming again to oocyte and sperm biology. I’ve all the time thought that these cells are actually fascinating and actually particular, and I used to be significantly drawn to the method of fertilisation, whereby these two cells need to bind particularly to one another after which fuse. I got here throughout the primary paper from Andi Pauli’s lab describing the invention of a protein referred to as Bouncer, which is on the floor of zebrafish eggs, and is an important fertilisation issue. The opposite actually cool factor that the Pauli lab discovered was that when you substitute the zebrafish Bouncer with the medaka homologue, now you can fertilise the zebrafish eggs with medaka sperm, altering the compatibility of sperm and egg by simply switching this one protein on the floor of the eggs. I believed this was superb, so I reached out to her, eager to come back for a go to. I used to be excited by the science and felt a very good reference to Andi, so I made a decision to take a plunge and alter fully scientific discipline, change mannequin organism, change continents! It was fairly a 180-degree change. I’ve been right here for 3 years now, and I’ve actually had such a very good time. I believe that choosing an space of science that you simply’re simply fully fascinated by in your postdoc is unquestionably the way in which to go. I don’t suppose I’ve ever had a day the place I’m bored by my initiatives, I’m all the time questioning, what is actually happening? How might we determine this out? So, I’ve been learning the method of fertilisation, largely utilizing zebrafish, and particularly I’m engaged on making an attempt to decipher, which proteins, on the molecular degree, are mediating this course of, each on the sperm facet and on the egg facet. I really like desirous about how these two cells come collectively and the way they’ll obtain particular cell fusion between them. That’s an idea that basically fascinates me and is my analysis curiosity in a nutshell!

Did you discover switching mannequin organisms an enormous change, or was that fairly simple to do?

It was simpler than I anticipated. I believe it helped that the lab right here (in Vienna) was already established and there have been lots of people within the lab that helped me choose up the zebrafish mannequin organism. One of many greatest benefits of working with zebrafish is that the embryos are clear. This implies which you could look by way of a vivid discipline microscope and watch growth unfold.  You may watch the embryo gastrulating and you’ll see even the somites forming, which was so thrilling to me.

Congratulations on being awarded the 2022 SDB Trainee Science Communication Award, are you able to inform us what successful this award means to you?

This award means a lot to me. I believe oftentimes, this sort of work is taken into account extracurricular, and is missed. It’s fantastic that the SDB is recognising that outreach and communication are necessary features of educational science, and I believe it reveals the route that we’re shifting in. I believe that being a well-rounded scientist is not only about making thrilling discoveries in biology, but additionally about mentoring the subsequent technology of scientists, and constructing an inclusive house for everybody. My quick story of how I obtained concerned into outreach work was when, after being within the US for a number of years, I realised that I used to be in a singular place to contribute to my residence nation of El Salvador. I began doing easy outreach actions each time I used to be again in El Salvador within the summertime. I’d attain out to a neighborhood college and obtained concerned with a workshop encouraging center faculty ladies to think about STEM fields. I’d volunteer to offer one of many Saturday morning workshops they do as a part of a 12-week programme. One 12 months I organised a workshop on pulleys. I borrowed some materials from my highschool and we ran this workshop collectively. So, that’s the way it began after which finally, as I obtained extra concerned with the Salvadoran group, I began reaching out to universities to additionally give motivational talks, to share my story. Then the subsequent step was the fellowship that I created with my postdoc advisor Andi. However as you’ll be able to hopefully see, the initiatives began very small, however by way of the years I constructed greater and greater initiatives.

Are you able to inform us just a little extra in regards to the Austria-El Salvador Analysis Fellowship that you simply based?

The thought originated from a yearly mentoring assembly I used to be having with Andi. We have been speaking in regards to the Vienna BioCenter Summer time Faculty, which is open for college students from everywhere in the world to use to come back for a summer time analysis internship on the Vienna BioCenter. It’s an incredible programme, however the realities are that college students from decrease revenue international locations don’t have entry to the identical alternatives as candidates from different components of the world. Which means they often don’t make the lower for the conventional programme that we run right here. I urged to Andi that we might attempt to fill this hole by inviting one particular person for the summer time, see the way it goes and take it from there. Since I’m very related to the group in El Salvador, it was simple for me to broadcast the applying inside El Salvador after which discover a scholar who could be motivated to come back be part of us for a summer time. We prolonged a proposal to a scholar referred to as Eduardo. He was right here for 3 months and I used to be his direct supervisor. One factor that basically stood out was that he was all the time so keen to come back to the lab, and so grateful and amazed by the amenities. He cherished the library and would go within the evenings to learn books, entry that we take with no consideration. It was actually fascinating and galvanizing for me as a mentor and made me actually begin appreciating the sources that now we have right here. Despite the fact that he had by no means had any analysis expertise, he rapidly picked up loads of ideas. Eduardo is a really proficient scientist, and it was a deal with to mentor him. I additionally turned conscious of loads of obstacles inside growing international locations that type of inhibit the development of science. I’ve heard loads of tales of getting to make use of makeshift reagents and delayed providers to growing international locations, which signifies that science strikes rather a lot slower since you simply don’t have entry to the identical sources. For Eduardo, the fellowship was his first analysis expertise, his first alternative to check out the methods he had examine, and it allowed him to be immersed in science. He has additionally taken his data again to El Salvador. He has began a molecular biology membership inside his college, the place they learn papers collectively and they’re making a scientific group of scholars again residence. It’s a small factor, beginning with only one particular person, however I believe in the long term it might actually have an effect in how biology develops in in low-income international locations, and in El Salvador, specifically.

The majority of the funding for the fellowship was from the Vienna BioCenter, however I additionally made a GoFundMe web page to have extra funds to make use of to cowl Eduardo’s journey, in addition to a small stipend to cowl dwelling prices throughout the three months. I believe you will need to keep in mind that if we’re going to convey somebody from a low-income nation, you can not count on that that particular person will be capable to cowl a roundtrip flight from internationally. We actually needed to be as accommodating as we might and think about the fact of the applicant, together with funding journey, visa, but additionally being conscious of entry to alternatives when contemplating the power of the applying. As we transfer ahead in creating an inclusive scientific setting, now we have to think about, are we lacking out on expertise due to obstacles to entry these sorts of alternatives?

I noticed that you simply additionally ran a do-it-yourself workshop for lecturers in El Salvador, how did this course work and did you deliberately goal lecturers relatively than college students?

The do-it-yourself microscopes is a workshop that was developed by Bob Goldstein at UNC Chapel Hill. The premise of his programme was to supply this workshop to lecturers, in his case in North Carolina. I got here throughout Bob’s work in a convention the place he had a stand with these microscopes. I talked to him in regards to the thought of bringing this workshop to a low-income or an underprivileged nation. I believed it will be an ideal match to introduce each lecturers and college students to science as a result of it was very reasonably priced, the microscopes are simple to make, however nonetheless, provide you with entry to the microscopic world. I believe that each one of these components make it an ideal outreach device for low-income international locations. I noticed the worth in Bob’s programme to focus on lecturers in order that they may develop their data and amplify that impact to their college students, so we determined to implement this programme in El Salvador in a really related style. I translated all the fabric, however Bob has this ‘Ikea-like’ drawing of how you can construct this microscope, so that you don’t want loads of textual content. I used to be additionally fortunate to companion with a neighborhood college and we recruited round 40 to 50 lecturers from throughout the nation. It was such a very good workshop; everybody got here out so pleased and so proud that they constructed this microscope. It was enjoyable watching individuals’s first response, after they put say a leaf underneath this microscope, and impulsively, they may see the cells. Quite a lot of these lecturers had by no means seen that, not even in a textbook. The lecturers needed to take the microscopes into to the classroom, however additionally they needed to point out their households as a result of they have been so excited by it!

How can we, as a group, higher help and promote scientists from low- and middle-income international locations?

We’ve touched on some features already, and I believe that we’re in a really distinctive place to have the ability to present alternatives to college students from deprived backgrounds. As a group, we must always help open calls, particularly to recruit individuals from low-income international locations, or we might reserve spots inside our current programmes to incorporate expertise from deprived backgrounds. And we’d like to consider the obstacles might forestall individuals from collaborating in such programmes. The train of placing your self in different individuals’s sneakers might actually rework the way in which that we run loads of our analysis programmes and we’re at the moment discussing how we might implement this right here on the Vienna BioCenter. We’re discussing how, inside our present summer time programme, we are able to reserve spots for college students from low-income international locations, and what would we have to present to essentially help the scholars collaborating within the programme.

It’s thrilling to suppose that one thing can begin with a small venture, inviting one particular person into the lab, however then if that might be amplified to say 20% of institutes providing a number of weeks within the lab, there could be an enormous variety of scientists benefiting from this sort of expertise.

Sure, that’s a extremely good mind-set about it. It might be utilized to any analysis institute internationally and will actually have an effect. However I believe it’s good to begin with a small ‘experiment’ after which actually pitch for implementing one thing greater. That’s my hope. I hope that for subsequent summer time we are able to already reserve ~20% of the spots on our analysis programme for college students from underprivileged backgrounds with the concept we recognise that expertise is in all places, and that science additionally advantages from a various expertise pool. And so, in that effort, now we have restructured the programme to permit for this enrichment.

You’ve spoken about Andi Pauli and Bob Goldstein as mentors. Do you may have any mentors or position fashions both in analysis or science communication and outreach?

One individual that involves thoughts was somebody that I intersected with throughout my time at Duke. I used to be actually fortunate to be a part of this programme referred to as the Biocore Students programme, and this programme is led by an incredible scientist, advocate, and communicator, Sherilynn Black. Sherilynn created this graduate scholar programme that’s designed to construct a supportive group for PhD college students of numerous backgrounds. I utilized to be a part of this programme and remained within the programme all through my PhD. It turned my scientific residence throughout my PhD. It was a cohort of actually numerous college students that have been within the programme to come back collectively and help one another and collectively transfer by way of our PhD experiences. I actually owe my PhD to this group. It has made me captivated with group constructing inside scientific areas that enable individuals to thrive. If I might be a fraction of Sherilynn Black, I’ll have made it in life!

What’s subsequent for you, each quick time period and long term?

Within the quick time period, I’m actually having fun with my postdoc right here on the Pauli lab. I really like mentoring college students and I believe that the scientific world is the right floor for constructing communities, for mentoring individuals and for coming collectively and speaking our science broadly. In the long run, it’s arduous to say, however I’d be in search of one thing that permits me to proceed this position of making group, speaking science, and mentoring college students. I believe that my future position might take form in some ways for me.

The place do you suppose developmental biology can be in ten years?

Throughout my PhD, I used to be launched to the sphere of quantitative biology and the extra insights that quantitative strategies can present into the dynamics and the regulation of organic processes inside growing organisms. I’m curious to see how this discipline goes to maintain evolving. And never solely that, however how interdisciplinary initiatives that use ideas from physics or ideas from laptop science, can convey new insights to organic questions which have been studied for an extended, very long time. On the SDB assembly, for instance, we began seeing how individuals are utilizing AI to have the ability to predict differentiation cascades – I believe that that’s really fascinating. And mixing that with detailed knowledge units of transcriptional states of cells can actually propel the developmental biology discipline ahead. So, these are the issues that I’m actually enthusiastic about, however whether or not that really finally ends up being the crux of developmental biology in 10 years, who is aware of, however that’s one thing that I look ahead to studying about!

If you’re not within the lab, what do you do for enjoyable?

I actually love happening walks. I’ve a sister that lives with me right here in Vienna and each weekend we choose a distinct district or a distinct neighbourhood in Vienna to stroll round. I believe it’s a good way to know a metropolis. I additionally love travelling, and one of many greatest benefits of being in Central Europe is that I’ve entry to loads of stunning cities, simply superb historic locations. After I journey, I take pleasure in attending to know the tradition and the meals of various international locations. These are two of my massive ones, however I additionally actually loved dancing, in order that’s one thing I love to do on the weekend.

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