Evolution 2014

For the past few days I was off to the Evolution conference in Raleigh, NC…

Oh well, not far from my new home in Durham…

BUT I have to say that it was the best conference I have ever been to date! I’m not saying that because NESCent was organizing it, but because it was really well organized!

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Trevor Price’s lecture – Raleigh Convention Center

OMG! so much delicious food and beer. Ok, I don’t drink alcohol, but I think many people were very happy with everything! And of course a luck person got all my beer “free ticket”! And the best quote I’ve heard “Today I ate a cookie the size of my face!” (By Assif Tamuri). I have to say I ate TWO cookies the size of my face, and I don’t know where all these calories went to!

In the first day I went to the trip organized by the conference to the Singletary Lake/ Lake Waccamaw/Green Swamp. Although it was a very hot day, iIt was a very nice trip. We left Raleigh Convention Center at 6:30am and arrived back at 11:00pm.

We first visited the Singletary Lake

Singletary Lake… where we saw many animals.

Salamander

Salamander

Then we went to the Lake Waccamaw.

Lake Waccamaw

And we also saw an alligator (how cool was that?)!!

AlligatorAnd finally we went to the Green Swamp where we saw many beautiful plants! From orchids to carnivorous plants.

plantsThe Evolution conference had many interesting talks and I also gave a 15min talk on the Evolutionary Dynamics of Endogenous Retroviruses by Computer Simulations.

It end up with a Super Social at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science. It was the greatest idea ever!

SuperSocial2

SuperSocialI also met many interesting people and I had a very nice time in my first Evolution conference! And I just have to say that now (if money is not a problem) I want to go to all the Evolution conferences!!

Next year the Evolution conference will be in Brazil!! My home county! You should all take a week off and visit Rio!!

Rio de Janeiro

Just for a taste of the beauty of Rio!!

Make a plan! Rent a car, and drive from Guarujá to Paraty and then to Rio!

Trindade

Trindade – Paraty

I hope to see you all in Evolution 2015!

Visiting Researcher in Oxford

Last year I contacted Dr. Aris Katzourakis regarding his paper “The evolutionary dynamics of endogenous retroviruses” and my interest in developing new models to describe the evolution of these viruses in animal genomes.

He invited me to visit his lab in Oxford, UK, and this year I went there for a month. During this time I was able to analyse the simulated data I generated last year, which consisted of DNA sequences of full-length endogenous retroviruses (ERVs). I simulated 10,000 bases, which is the approximately size of an ERV genome.

The time in Oxford was very nice, I was able to interact with his students and discuss my analysis and results. Not to say that Oxford is a beautiful town, and although still cold for me, the weather was actually good considering I was in the UK.

Oxford, UK

I decided to stay in London during my time there. London is an amazing city, with a very efficient public transport. As I still don’t drive, I can say I was in heaven for a month! I visited some very interesting museums there which you can see some pictures below.

1. Grant Museum of Zoology

A small but very interesting museum. If you are a zoologist or just like animals you should check out this museum.

Grant Museum of Zoology2. The Natural History Museum

This is an amazing museum. It was my third time there, and I still haven’t seen everything. You should also check out this museum if you like animals and would like to know more about dinosaurs and fossils. My favorite part in this museum is the mammals and dinosaurs!

NHM3. The British Museum

Another amazing museum in London, and one of my favorites. My favorite part is the collection about Egypt and the mummies.

British MuseumBy doing research we can visit different parts of the world, learn about different cultures, and learn to interact with other students and researchers from different cultures and backgrounds.

Education Outreach in Jamaica

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This November I went to Jamaica for education outreach. It was my first time in Jamaica and also doing outreach.  While in the beginning I was not sure how it would be, I just have to say that I love it! It was a very interesting and rewarding experience.

How I got involved in this education outreach?

There are lots of outreach opportunities at NESCent. This year I was invited to do education outreach in Jamaica by Jory Weintraub who is the Assistant Director of Education and Outreach at NESCent. So I could have some experience in teaching basic concepts in evolution for high school teachers and also show some of my research to high school students.

When it happened?

Jory, Elvis and I arrived in Kingston, Jamaica on the 25th November. Yes, because I didn’t travel alone… we were a team of three people.

Evolution Workshop for high school teachers happened in Kingston (26th and 27th November), and in Montego Bay (2nd and 3rd December).

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Group picture with teachers at Kingston, Jamaica

Why this workshop for high school teachers?

They are reformulating the curriculum for high school students in the Caribbean islands. This workshop was developed to make teachers more confident in teaching evolution as this subject is now included in the curriculum.

I was responsible to teach about Biodiversity and Biogeography, Jamaican Examples of Evolution, Primate Evolution, and Virus Evolution and Evolutionary Medicine. You can check the power point presentations here. In each of these four topics I also gave examples of my own work through all this 12 years as a scientist.

Teaching high school teachers about Virus Evolution at Kingston, Jamaica

Teaching high school teachers about Virus Evolution at Kingston, Jamaica

What else happened during this time in Jamaica?

We also visited high schools in Kingston, and one of the schools was not in a very safe area, for example.

We talked to students about evolution, and I presented the work I did during my Ph.D. in Australia on the evolution of pigs and their endogenous retroviruses.

Montego_Bay

My presentation to high school students at Kingston, Jamaica

But I also talked about my path to be a scientist, because I wanted to be a role model for these students.

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Talking to students after my presentation at Kingston, Jamaica

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Talking to students after my presentation at Kingston, Jamaica

I am from a non-wealthy family in Brazil and both my parents only completed primary school. After I finished high school I didn’t know what to study for a bachelor degree, as in Brazil we have to choose a course in advance. Because I was not sure, I started a Bachelor degree in Computer Sciences, but one year later I switched course. In 2000 I started a bachelor degree of Microbiology and Immunology at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. In 2004 I began my Masters in Molecular and Cell Biology at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, also in Brazil. During this time, my supervisor (Dr. Cibele R. Bonvicino) convinced me to do my Ph.D. overseas. After carefully thinking I decided to apply for a fellowship in Australia, and in 2006 I was granted a fellowship from the Australian government to carry out my Ph.D. project at the University of Sydney under the supervision of Prof. Chris Moran. In 2009 I went for 3 months to the UK to carry out part of my Ph.D. at the Imperial College London under the supervision of Prof. Michael Tristem. Today I am currently carrying out an independent postdoctoral research at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), Durham, NC, USA, and my mentor there is Prof. Allen Rodrigo.

Group picture with high school students in Kingston, Jamaica

Group picture with high school students in Kingston, Jamaica

My goal was to show these students that everything is possible. And interestingly some students were curious and wanted to know more about my experiences, and my past and current research. They also asked advices about career in general.

I guess they were also very surprised to see that someone like me was a scientist, as most of the time we think as a scientist someone much older, and usually a man. I am a woman of color and much younger than what usually people think a scientist should be.

I hope I made a difference in their lives and I hope some of these students can change their lives too.

How everything started…

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To be a scientist we need to follow a long road.

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Eventually you will know what type of scientist you want to be (if you don’t decide to quit somewhere in between).

Everything started in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 1998 I decided to be a computer scientist! Then, I guess, I started my long journey: Bachelor of Informatics was the chosen degree. After one year of studying pure math, and after having that Linear Algebra professor “making” all the drawings with his hands (?), I started questioning myself:

Where are all the cool informatics part?

And I started missing biology classes… So I quit! (Yes, simple like that). And I chose to take the left road…

In 2000 I started a Bachelor of Microbiology and Immunology at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Brazil.

Yes! I chose right at that time, studying for me was like a hobby! I had lots of fun with bacteria and fungus, but my passion was viruses! And the best, I did not have to learn how many legs a cockroach has (that would happen if I decided to do Biology).

In 2001 I discover there were cool mammals in the world, and I acquire a new passion! At this year I started in a lab in Brazil working with phylogenetics (phylo what??), and my project in the lab was with monkey DNA. Cool!!!!

I guess because I could not understand what is/was phylogenetics, I fall in love again! I think I wanted to learn all that new stuffs, but at that point it was very very very difficult…

S.T.O.P.

At this point You are probably thinking:

How can someone think her degree was like a hobby and fall in love with viruses, and mammals and Science?

— silence —

Ok, I have other hobbies too, like reading and running and going to the beach, and sleeping (my favorite one)!

2004 was the year!

I graduated and I was finally a Microbiologist and Immunologist! And I discovered I really wanted to be a scientist! I also discovered the road was far of finishing and at that point I didn’t know where was the end, but I was following the yellow bricks.

Next step: Masters degree