María Lluch Senar
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2014 – Staff Scientist, Luis Serrano Lab, Design of Biological Systems, Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), Barcelona Spain
2010-2014 – Post-doctoral fellow, Luis Serrano Lab, Design of Biological Systems, Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), Barcelona Spain
2005-2010 – PhD in Biotechnology, Institut de Biotecnologia i Biomedicina (IBB), Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain
Summary of Academic and Scientific Background
I am doctor in Biotecnology. I did my PhD at the IBB (www.ibb.uab.es) in Barcelona, in a lab of molecular biology and microbiology. During my thesis I worked with Mycoplasma genitalium, one of the smallest self-replicating organism. M. genitalium is a human pathogen that causes non-gonococcal urethritis. The objective of my thesis was the analysis of transcriptional regulation in this bacterium and cell division. For this propose, I developed novel genetic tools and I made two important breakthroughs that changed at that time, some pre-conceived notions in microbiology:
- The first one was related to ftsZ, which encodes for a tubulin-like protein that forms the Z-ring at mid-cell during cell division. Until then, ftsZ was considered as essential in the bacterial word. By developing double cross-over recombination in this bacterium I was able to deplete ftsZ and we found that in the absence of ftsZ, M. genitalium divides by using gliding motility.
- Secondly, by random transposition using the reporter vector, we revealed the generalized presence of promoters driving the expression of non-coding RNAs (ncRNA). In fact, it was the first evidence that prokaryotes could encode for antisense ncRNAs.
I went for a short stay (three months) at the group of Prof. Stülke’s lab (Göttingen; Germany), a specialist in Mycoplasma pneumoniae. My project was aimed at detecting antisense ncRNA in a related organism to M. genitalium. Unfortunately, we could not get the microarray technology working, and instead I worked on the characterization of metabolic mutants in this bacterium. In collaboration with Sebastian Schmidl, we showed that some metabolic enzymes could be key virulence factors.
In 2010, I started my post-doc in the lab of systems biolofy (CRG, Prof. Luis Serrano). Understanding a living system in a quantitative manner was an interesting topic for me. I thought that I could contribute with my knowledge in the biology of Mycoplasma and also moving from classical molecular biology to systems biology was a great challenge for me. As result of these last 6 years of collaborative work I have published more than 12 papers.
During my post-doc, and on my own initiative, I established several collaborations with important institutions and researchers: Markus Covert (Stanford University), Jonathan Karr (Mount Sinai), Kai Luong (Pacific Bioscience), John Glass (J. Craig Venter Institute), Soren Molins (Novo Nordisk Foundation), J. Maria Guilló (CSIC, University of Navarra), Cecile Bebear and Alain Blanchard (INRA).
In 2014, I became staff scientist in Prof Serrano’s lab and I am in charge of the Mycoplasma team. When I became staff scientist, I had the opportunity to design and build entire projects and apply together with Prof. Serrano for international grants. As a result of this effort, two years ago we were awarded two European projects: (i) a large integrated project of 8 million Euros, MycoSynVac (I am co-coordinator) and (ii) an EraSynBio project, MiniCell (I could not officially be a co-coordinator due to the rules only allowing one person). With this money I have had the opportunity to re-organize the lab, establish new collaborations, contract new people and build a new team of motivated researchers.
Aside from grants I recently, together with J. Karr, co-organized the first (April 2016) and second (September 2017) international Whole-Cell model course in Europe (www.wholecell.org/school-2016/). The third edition will be hold in 2019 and it has been recognized as EMBO Workshop. In parallel, with the Systems Biology line of research, I also manage a team within the group that focuses on synthetic biology, having the goal of engineering M. pneumoniae to treat human lung diseases. In December 2016, I got my first grant as independent investigator, Miguel Servet. With this founding, we will be able to perform these in vivo assays to show that M. pneumoniae can be used as delivery system to treat lung diseases. In collaboration with Dr. Victoria Garrido and Prof Maria Jesús Grilló (CSIC) we have shown in vitro and in vivo that an engineered M. pneumoniae strain can be used as delivery system to secrete several proteins acting against biofilms formed by S. aureus. Also, in collaboration with the groups of Dr. Eduard Torrens (IBEC) and Dr. Antoni Torres (Hospital Clinic) we are doing the proof for medical application of MycoChassis to dissolve P. aureaginosa biofilms for treating Ventialator Associated Pneumonia (VAP).
I co-supervised B. Paetzold (a PhD student; thesis defended in 2013) when he was at the end of the second year of his thesis. This thesis was the first step in our group towards translational medicine and Synthetic Biology. Nowadays, Berni has his own biotech company (S-biomedics). I also became the co-supervisor of V. Llorens and Carolina Gallo from the beginning of their thesis. They defended it on the 15th of September 2016 and 11th of January 2018, respectively. Veronica Llorens got the extraordinary price to the best thesis by the UPF; this thesis comprised seven published papers and she is doing a post-doc at VIB. Currently, I am co-supervising the thesis of PhD students Daniel Shawn and Samuel Miravet. Through the supervision of these students, I have realized that I can do something much more important than only having ideas and publishing, and that is motivating brilliant minds to continue in science.
Finally, the Mycoplasma team, which I supervise, have developed the necessary tools for large scale-genome engineering of M. pneumoniae.