Interview with Ivana Sfarcic from the Troemel Lab
What about your research gets you the most excited?
In the Troemel lab, our research goal is to learn more about ways in which intracellular pathogens interact with their host cells and vice versa. Therefore, we are working on pathogens that can be studied in a convenient but powerful whole-animal host, the nematode C. elegans. Working with a whole-animal model gives us the opportunity to study the effects of an infection on various tissues (like intestine and neurons) in the same animal. C. elegans is a very versatile model that is actually infected by many species of intracellular pathogens in the wild. Our main focus in the lab is on a unicellular fungal-like pathogen of the phylum Microsporidia. Different Microsporidia species have been found to infect virtually all animals, including immune suppressed humans. Microsporidia can also cause severe damage in agricultural settings, which is currently most problematic in fish and shrimp farming. I think, what makes us most excited, is when we manage to get a controlled infection of our worms with intracellular pathogens and are able to monitor interactions between host and pathogen. It is extremely interesting to see how a constant arms race of host defense and pathogen intrusion shaped the genetic equipment of both organisms. We want to answer questions like: How does the pathogen exploit the host cell to thrive? How does the host cell sense the invasion of a pathogen? and, Which mechanisms does it have to fight against the intruder?
What’s one practice your lab has implemented to be sustainable in its research?
I firmly believe that even small changes in a lab setting can have a large, cumulative impact on the sustainability of the given lab. I think the biggest impact on our sustainability was identifying areas in which we could save energy and implementing changes. For example, we had energy saving light bulbs installed in the whole lab, equipped our heating blocks with timers, and switched off some heating blocks completely after realizing that they are not in every-day use. On another note, we are transitioning to bio-degradable gloves, which are actually stunningly similar to the non-biodegradable ones we used before (-and cheaper!).