What's your name, nationality, current function, and department?
My name is Erik Slot and I was born on a cold Monday morning in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands. I joined the Storkebaum group in Department of Molecular Neurobiology on September 1st last year (2020). I am part of the Donders Centre for Neuroscience (DCN) and since August this year, I try to represent the PhD students of the DCN, both within the DCN and in the Donders wide PhD-council.
What is the topic of your PhD project and how does your work look like in practice?
The topic of my PhD is broadly to identify and characterize genes that are involved in the progressive degeneration of peripheral nerves. These motor and sensory neurons are affected in a subset of diseases, of which I am currently focusing on Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease. Together with everyone in the lab, I am trying to accurately and completely identify the molecular mechanism caused by specific mutations in a certain family of genes all resulting in CMT. To accomplish that, I work with fruit flies on a daily basis. These flies form a very important aspect of my research and I easily spend more than half of my day looking at them through a microscope. With the help of genetic tools and over 100 years of genetic engineering in fruit flies, models have been generated that mirror symptoms related to CMT. I subsequently look at specific cell types of these model flies, characterize their phenotypes and try to rescue them in a variety of ways. I think that we are close to uncovering the complete picture, which will help us and others immensely to develop adequate therapeutics.
Besides unraveling the molecular mechanisms underlying CMT, I have another large, ambitious project, where I want to identify genes have not been previously linked to neurodegeneration. I, again, will make use of the fruit fly (but this time, really a lot of them!) and I am going to perform a forward genetic screen. Such a screen means that you randomly mutate genes in individual flies and subsequently see which flies present a phenotype consistent with neurodegeneration. To make it feasible within the duration of my PhD, I will focus only on a single chromosome arm with the expectation that this will result in approximately 100 candidate genes linked to the degeneration of peripheral nerves.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
I had a lot of different things that I wanted to be at some point in my life. Early on it started with jobs like firefighter and construction worker, but I primarily wanted to become an inventor. Then, of course, my dinosaur phase started and I wanted to become a paleontologist and discover dinosaur bones. I thought becoming an archeologist was too scary, because you were uncovering human skeletons and that was scary (back then). Then, late in high-school I was playing with the thought of becoming a pathologist (suddenly dead humans were not so scary anymore), but in the end decided to study the more lab-related part of biology (maybe they were still scary). Although I did not know exactly how, I had always played with the idea of doing a PhD, so although the intended field changed quite some times, the overall outcome is more or less the same: a scientist.
What is your favorite book and why?
Although I could choose the questions I wanted to answer, this one remains difficult. For a long time, my favourite book was some part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy or The Hobbit. I think they are still up there, but since I had to read older Dutch literature in high school, I have also been interested in the work of Louis Couperus and read his fairy tale Psyche. I remember that in a recovery question somewhere, that was my answer on what is your favourite book, so I think it is only fair to mention it here too.