Industrial doctorate pilot programme stay in International School on Biological Crystallization of Granada and Centro de Biología Molecular “Severo Ochoa” de Madrid
My name is Giovanna Petrillo and I am in the final year of an industrial doctorate in Biotechnology at the University of Barcelona (UB). I am carrying out a research project in collaboration with the company Biochemize and the Institute of Advanced Chemistry of Catalonia (IQAC). The aim of my project is to redesign carboligase enzymes to form asymmetrical carbon-carbon bonds, based on the study of the tertiary structures. The formation of carbon-carbon bonds represents a means of creating highly complex chiral structures and is capable of creating innovative, functionally and stereochemically diverse, compounds; this is highly desirable in biocatalytic processes.
The mobility grant offered to doctoral students by the Industrial Doctorates Plan has enabled me to participate in an international school on crystallization, in Granada, the ‘International School on Biological Crystallization’ (ISC 2015). The school included five days of lectures and practical demonstrations related to the crystallization of biological macromolecules, biominerals and biomimetic materials, with a whole day dedicated to studies of protein crystallization. Being able to attend was extremely useful for my work, as the new techniques I learned have helped me to progress with my doctoral project. In particular, being able to put into practice in the laboratory the technique known as ‘streak seeding’ has enabled me to obtain crystals of one of the proteins I am studying, in complex with interesting reaction intermediates, and this has represented a very significant step forward in my work. The technique is a method for introducing pre-formed crystal nuclei into a drop to control nucleation and alter the way in which crystals grow, slowing down growth and thereby yielding better-quality crystals. Before participating in the school I was familiar with the theoretical basis of the technique, but had never carried it out in practice. The demonstrations, the materials supplied, and the professional advice from experts in the field allowed me to successfully put the technique into practice in the lab.
During the second year of the doctoral programme, I also had the opportunity to use the mobility grant to spend two weeks at the Center for Molecular Biology Severo Ochoa (CMBSO), in Madrid, with which the company has a collaboration agreement, under the supervision of Professor Pere Berenguer. The aim of my stay in Madrid was to learn molecular biology techniques which would be especially useful in the engineering and design of new protein mutants. Despite the brief nature of my time there, I was able to achieve my objective: the skills and professionalism of the people who guided me and shared their precious knowledge allowed me to learn cloning techniques, systems for protein expression and directed mutagenesis.
Finally, the grant has allowed me, with no extra cost to the company, to attend two professional meetings, in Madrid and in Brussels. I believe that meetings are a very useful tool for professional growth and for learning new things, offering the opportunity to discuss different points of view and ideas and, in this way, to be able to decide whether specific areas of work within the company are being carried out correctly or not, and allowing for the incorporation of new ideas, plans and organisational goals. The last meeting I took part in, in Madrid, also provided me with the opportunity to give a presentation on the progress of my doctoral project, and I received a very interesting offer to collaborate with a research group from Germany which will enable me to expand my doctoral thesis, with the addition of an interesting new protein to my study.
I am hugely grateful for the grant which the Industrial Doctorate Plan has provided me with; it has been extremely beneficial for my research project. The experience has provided me with some very interesting results, and memories of some very happy moments, a few of which you can see below.