blog: Introducing our poster award winner

Poster Award winner: Carlos Perez Arques

In our previous blog we learned about Ana Isabel Matos (travel grant recipient) and her research aimsPicture_Carlos_Perez_Arques. This week, we’re going to speak with Carlos Perez Arques (poster award winner) to find out more about his journey into scientific discovery!

Please tell us which conference you would like your poster to appear at:
29th Fungal Genetics Conference in Asilomar Conference Center, Pacific Grove, California (USA)

Please tell us about your research:
I began my research in connection with a research project about Mucor circinelloides, an early-diverging fungus which is a causal agent for an infectious disease known as mucormycosis. Despite the existence of a modern arsenal of antifungal drugs, mortality rates for this infectious disease remain devastatingly high since Mucorales present an unusual drug resistance. Consequently, a current demand of novel therapeutic targets is triggering the exploration of the genetic basis involved in mucormycosis.
This project attempts to link gene silencing via RNAi, a fascinating mechanism which among other functions controls gene expression in this fungus, with regulating pathogenesis. My work analyzes Mucor gene silencing mechanism role in regulating essential biological processes. To do so, we are undertaking transcriptomical analyses in mutants for the RNAi pathway, which are a virulent, and comparing them to virulent wild-type strains in order to find differentially expressed genes and small RNA producing loci. So far we have determined that Mucor controls the expression of genes implicated in vegetative development, specifically in asexual sporulation and nutritional starvation responses; sexual interaction and mating; and, more importantly, virulence factors.
Furthermore, we have uncovered a new protein, named R3B2, architecture domain highly consistent with a ribonuclease. This putative ribonuclease, along with RNA-dependent RNA polymerases, takes part in an alternative or non-canonical gene silencing mechanism. By creating a knockout mutant, we have demonstrated that R3B2 is involved in pathogenesis, indicating that this non-canonical RNAi pathway, and its target genes, could be used as therapeutic targets for novel antifungal drugs.

How does your research apply to the topics of discussion at the above-mentioned conference?
The 29th Fungal Genetics Conference dedicates a fair amount of sessions to basal fungi, including Mucoralean fungi. This group of early-diverging fungi are often reluctant to classical genetic tools like transposable elements or gene mapping, so novel strategies by which to study this fungal group are always well received. My research makes use of a transcriptomic advances to understand the molecular basis of pathogenesis and virulence in an understudied organism such as Mucor circinelloides, so this approach could be extremely interesting to the conference attendants.

Mucormycosis is very little understood, owing to a lack of genetic studies related to virulence. My work tries to link a very specific non-caninocal gene silencing pathway, not present in mammals, with pathogenesis and thus establishing the foundations to create novel and effective antifungal therapies.

What do you hope to learn/gain from submitting your poster at this conference?
I started my Master’s thesis in connection with a research project about Mucor circinelloides pathogenesis, a filamentous fungi belonging to the order Mucorales which is a causal agent for an infectious disease known as mucormycosis. This work taught me RNA manipulation and detection techniques to study gene expression, hence allowing me to embark on a PhD thesis to analyze Mucor gene silencing mechanism role in essential biological processes, such as vegetative development, sexual interaction and pathogenesis. It is my first year as a PhD student and I feel the need to enlarge and improve my contact network. Attending to this conference is an excellent choice due to its international recognition and affinity with my field of study. This could allow me to carefully plan future stays on different research groups and expand my studies. Furthermore, assisting to this conference will provide an extraordinary opportunity to learn new genetic and molecular techniques which I could use in my current research, and be aware of recent findings with which to draw new hypothesis and interpretations for my results. I also believe that presenting my results in a comprehensible manner could help me grow professionally as a scientist, and I am eager to do so among an audience that shares my enthusiasm for fungal genetics.
However, political and economic turmoil in my country due to unfruitful government elections has caused a dire lack of funds in my research group. We have been almost a year without national government and because of that our group has not received all allocated funds established for our research projects. This lack of funding is threatening our ability to finance our attendance to the 29th Fungal Genetics Conference at Asilomar and urged us to request this poster award.

Well we are absolutely thrilled to be able to help to support Carlos in his endeavours!

We would like to thank Carlos, Ana and all of the tremendous applicants for sharing their research with us. Please continue to follow us on social media for updates pertaining to future travel grants or poster awards. Meanwhile, have a lovely week!

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