What's your name, nationality, current function, and department?
My name is María, and I was born in Uruguay. After completing my bachelor’s degree I came to Nijmegen for my master’s degree and on September last year I joined Erik Storkebaum’s group as a PhD student in the Molecular Neurobiology Department of the DCN.
What is the topic of your PhD project and how does your work look like in practice?
In my main project, I use Drosophila melanogaster to study Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disorder. CMT is a caused by the progressive degeneration of motor and sensory neurons and a subset of CMT is due to mutations in a family of genes coding for tRNA synthetases. These enzymes are responsible for the covalent attachment of the tRNA to its corresponding amino acid, which is then consumed during protein translation. I have developed a model of CMT caused by mutations in once of these genes and I am now working on characterizing the effect of the mutations using a combination of behavioural and molecular assays, for example, we can put flies in a long tube, tap them down and measure the speed at which they climb as an indicative for motor deficits. Once this is done, I will try to rescue the disease phenotype and hopefully shed some light on the disease mechanism.
In practice, this means that I spend most of my time going up and down the stairs at the Science Faculty as I rotate between working on the flylab, molecular biology lab or confocal microscope.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
When I was little I wanted to be a painter, then I wanted to be dentist (after my mom) then a doctor (now after my dad), then a marine biologist and finally I decided on a clinical biochemist. While I was doing my bachelor’s, I did a small internship in the biochemistry department where I got to work in research for the first time in my life and I fell in love with it (although I still do some painting on my free time).
What is your favorite book and why?
My favourite book is by Chilean author Isabel Allende, and it is titled “La casa de los espíritus” (“The house of the spirits”). This book is a clear example of a literature movement that originated in Latin America and is known as magical realism. The book narrates the everyday life of a family during four generations and how it is affected by the political and socio-economic changes in Chile during that time, while also including characters who can move objects with their mind or predict the future. This way, magical elements are mixed with the mundane but are used to make a point about reality. It is a lovely book and I highly recommend it if you want to get a good impression of Latin American literature.
What is an important life lesson you have learned in the past?
Back when I was doing my bachelor’s I got it into my head to do twice the amount of credits in one semester, which was a terrible idea. I passed all my courses but with a great cost to my health and it took months to fully recover. Ever since then I strive to find balance in life and not to overdo things. I try to always keep in mind all aspects of my life and not just my work and I make time for things I enjoy and to take care of my health.