In this installment of Meet the Fellows, we hear from Ruben Vazquez-Uribe.

What is a brief description of the project you work on?
In my research topic I design and study the dynamics of synthetic gene circuits. Our goal is to develop tools and devices to program cells in the way we program robots nowadays. With these genetic circuits we aim to integrate the molecular signals of multiple metabolic and environmental sensors in order to connect it with specific complex cellular programs.


What is your background in science (and otherwise)?
I did my bachelor in environmental engineering, and during my first research projects I worked with biological water treatment processes. Our objective was to evaluate different parameters and the performance of the processes, however I got more interested in processes happening in the molecular level of the microorganism I was using. Furthermore, I felt the need to learn and develop tools to improve these molecular processes. Therefore as a next step in my career I decided to do my master in molecular biology. During my master I decided to focus on projects in the areas of synthetic and systems biology. On my projects I mainly learnt and applied technics for metabolic engineering, synthetic biology and mathematical modeling.

Why are you motivated to work on this topic?
There is significant interest in designing robust and reliable organisms that can assist on long-duration space exploration missions. In this matter, advances in synthetic biology have shown that it is possible to program cells to sense, integrate, record and process molecular signals while connecting them with specific cellular processes. Therefore programming cells in a computer-like manner to solve different challenges in space exploration is a really appealing topic for me, and it holds plenty of interesting engineering challenges and opportunities to be solved.

What led you to decide to do a PhD?
I like science and doing research.

An ITN is about international collaboration – what has your experience been so far in living in a country that is, perhaps, quite different from your own? What are some tips you would give to new PhD students (or students in general) who are moving to a different country?
Effective communication is not only about the language, the cultural factor also posses a communication barrier. In some countries there is a hierarchal organization between PhD student and supervisor, while I have found that in other countries like the Netherlands or Denmark communication with your supervisor is more effective if you see them as colleague and have a more open and direct communication with them.

It hasn’t been that long since we were interviewing for PhDs; what are some pointers you would give to students looking for a PhD to do during their undergraduate or Master’s?
Three things:

  • Become as independent as possible.
  • Trust your decisions.
  • Don’t expect to be good and feel completely comfortable with your future new lab, at least in the beginning. You might have got the hang of it in your previous lab, but you need to consider that you will be a new student in a completely different lab. Don’t get frustrated in the beginning, just accept that you will be new, and focus on adapting to the new lab and trusting what you know and enjoy.

What do you like to do for fun?
I like science fiction and videogames.

What is your favorite food?
Thick crust pizza and deep dish pizza.

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