The recipients of Fellowships in 2013 carry out their research in various fields within the life sciences, such as virology, ecology or food science. These passionate young scientists are often motivated by matters touching on local public health or biodiversity protection.
The 2013 Special Fellowship “in the footsteps of Marie Curie” was awarded to Professor Devi Stuart-Fox from the University of Melbourne , Australia. In the ten years since Devi Stuart-Fox was awarded a UNESCO-L’Oréal For Women in Science International Fellowship, this brilliant evolutionary biologist has made groundbreaking discoveries and numerous contributions to understanding the role that colors play in animal communication.
Senior Lecturer and ARC Australian Research Fellow
Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne
Devi’s research has a two-fold purpose. The first is studying how and why the diversity of animal colors and behaviors evolved. The second is exploring animal cognition--how the brain reacts to information coming from the senses, such as color, and then commands the body to respond in the appropriate way. Her hope is that her work “will give people a greater appreciation of the wonders and richness of nature”.
Among Devi’s many major contributions to her field, perhaps one of the most well-known is her having overturned a long-held idea about chameleons. It had always been thought that their capacity to change color had evolved to facilitate camouflage. Devi and her team discovered that this ability to change color, although it does help them hide from predators, originally evolved to aid chameleons in communicating with one another. Indeed, color pattern complexity drives sexual rather than natural selection. Using highly sophisticated computer models that allow her to study the way animals actually see, as well as much time spent observing their behavior in their natural habitats, she has made a number of such discoveries and answered numerous questions that confounded previous generations of scientists.
Postdoctoral researcher in virology; PhD in Biochemistry
Current Institution: Laboratory of Virology, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina
Host Institution: Department of Molecular Biomedical Research, University of Ghent, Belgium
Florencia Linero aims to develop an improved approach to preventing and curing Argentinean hemorrhagic fever, a serious health problem among agricultural workers caused by the Junin virus, which is transmitted by aerosolized body fluids or infected rodents. Current medicines have limited effectiveness and, if left untreated, the virus causes death in up to one in three cases. Florencia will conduct research to find a more efficient treatment for the virus via a novel form of nanobody medical technology, which makes use of antibody fragments rather than entire antibodies to fight diseases.
Postdoctoral researcher; PhD in Food and Nutrition
Current Institution: Institute of Food Science & Technology, Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Host Institution: Food Science and Technology Department, School of Chemical Engineering, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
More than a quarter of the Bangladeshi people are undernourished, yet much of the country’s fresh produce goes to waste because basic processing and preservation techniques are not available. Kanika Mitra’s research will initially focus on preserving the nutrients in the Arum plant during storage. Arum is cheap to grow, rich in calcium and iron and frequently used as a source of food during droughts. Subsequently she will attempt to apply her findings to preserving blueberries and strawberries in order to make them viable crops for farmers, as well as to ensure that these nutrient-rich fruit are more readily available to her country’s growing population.
PhD student in Plant Biotechnology
Current Institution: Institute of Agricultural Research for Development and University of Yaoundé, Cameroon
Host Institution: Institute of Plant Biology Research, University of Montreal, Canada
Marie Florence Ngo Ngwe’s project is designed both to preserve biodiversity and to help ensure food security for her fellow West Africans. Yams are among the main sources of nutrition in the region and their extended storage capacity makes them invaluable in times of food scarcity. As indigenous forests—the habitats of wild yam species—are being destroyed to make space for crops, and farmers grow only a limited number of domestic species, genetic diversity is gradually being eroded. Marie Florence will first investigate the genetic make-up of a variety of wild and domestic yam species to determine which ones provide the best seed plants. Subsequently, she aims to create a seed bank that will preserve the DNA of species against risk of extinction and provide farmers with a source of genetically diverse seeds.
PhD student in Biological Sciences
Current Institution: Laboratory of Genome Structure and Function, University of Tokyo, Japan
Host Institution: Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Therapy, Leloir Institute, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Breast cancer accounts for some 30% of all cancers diagnosed in women in developed countries and about 16% of all cancer deaths. Yet breast cancer is not a single disease with a single treatment. There are four main forms of the disease each with a different genetic profile. Lina Gallego’s research is part of a major study designed to determine which types of treatment prior to surgery are the most effective for each type of breast cancer. Lina will investigate the distribution of these four profiles among Latin American breast cancer patients and then use the profiles as predictive and prognostic tools for treatment. Lina’s work will be particularly important to the study because the occurrence of breast cancer varies considerably between ethnic groups and Latin America’s diverse genetic ancestry offers particularly fertile ground for such research.
PhD Student in Biotechnology
Current Institution: Department of Proteomics, Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Havana
Host Institution: Department of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Autoimmune diseases—diseases that occur when the body “attacks” itself—include more than 80 chronic inflammatory illnesses that collectively affect 5% to 8% of the worldwide population, 78% of whom are women, and--for reasons unknown – their prevalence and incidence are rising. Ariana Barbera will investigate the role of T-cells in the body’s immune system in the hopes of finding new forms of treatment for these illnesses. Most current treatments have serious or even fatal side effects and leave patients unable to fight infection. Ariana’s work will focus on determining whether certain peptides can be used to enhance the performance of the immune system’s disease-fighting T-cells while selectively eliminating its disease-causing T-cells.
PhD student in Ecology
Current Institution: University of Wyoming, USA
Host University: Mpala Research Centre Nanyuki, Kenya
Allison’s Louthan’s project addresses a critical aspect of conserving biodiversity in the face of climate change: How species will shift their distributional limits—the geographical ranges where they can survive--as climate change takes place. Science has made great progress in predicting how species will move in response to climate change, but still has a poor sense of how such moves might be affected by interactions with other plant and animal species. Allison’s work will explore where and when interactions with other species are critical drivers of geographic limits, and when these interactions are less critical for predicting territorial shifts. She hopes to increase our knowledge of where we need to conserve communities of species in concert and, conversely, where we can focus on conserving individual species.
Agricultural and Environmental Science
Agricultural and Environmental Science
PhD student in Agricultural Sciences
Current Institution: ACDI/VOCA, ADVANCE project, Accra, Ghana
Host University: School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom
Ghana, like many developing countries, faces the dual challenge of modernizing farming practices in order to provide adequate food supplies for a growing population while simultaneously ensuring that these new agricultural methods do not harm the environment. Anita Takura will conduct extensive research in northern Ghana to judge the effectiveness of new farming methods in terms of food productivity, especially with regard to small farmers, and to determine their impact on the surrounding eco-systems. Few rigorous studies have been done in this arena, and the information compiled and analyzed by Anita will be of vital importance in helping governments and donor organizations create conditions for sustainable, eco-friendly agriculture.
Natural Products Chemistry
Natural Products Chemistry
Lecturer and postdoctoral researcher; PhD in Agricultural Science
Current Institution: Department of Chemistry, Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology, Surabaya, Indonesia
Host Institution: Institute of Natural Products Chemistry, National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Gif-sur-Yvette, France
Sri Fatmawati’s postgraduate research has centered on the scientific analysis of plants that have been used for centuries in jamu, Indonesia’s traditional herbal medicine. She is now interested in exploring the medicinal possibilities of her home country’s rich marine diversity to extend her study to marine species from the Indo-Pacific Ocean. More specifically, she will look at sponges. Once she has isolated and purified the molecules in sponges that may have medicinal potential, she will test their biological activity in vitro to see if they demonstrate anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory or anti-tumor properties. Her work could open doors to new forms of treatment for diseases such as malaria, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Biochemistry and Biotechnology
Biochemistry and Biotechnology
Postdoctoral researcher in biochemistry and biotechnology; PhD in Chemistry Department of Biotechnology
Current Institution: Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands
Host Institution: Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Arizona State University, Tempe, USA
Marina Faiella’s project is focused on creating artificial proteins that could be used to produce hydrogen. If simple and efficient methods of production and utilization can be developed, hydrogen gas has the potential to become a limitless source of clean energy. One such method--which scientists hope one day to duplicate--is found in nature, in a class of proteins called hydrogenases. Although recent years have seen a variety of breakthroughs in comprehending the structure and function of these enzymes, fundamental questions about their mechanisms remain unanswered. Through her study, Marina hopes to answer some of these questions and make discoveries that can lead the way to the use of hydrogen as a plentiful, inexpensive, eco-friendly fuel source.
Postdoctoral researcher, PhD in Computational Biology
Current Institution: Department of Cell Research and Immunology, Tel-Aviv University, Israel
Host University: Department of Genome Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, USA
Autism is known to have a hereditary component but scientists have had difficulty identifying the precise genetic causes. Computational biologist Osnat Penn plans to tackle this challenge by analyzing massive quantities of data obtained through genome sequencing. She will use cutting-edge computer programs to compare the genomes of autism sufferers, their unaffected parents and thousands of unaffected people from populations around the world. The goal is to identify the specific areas where the autism variation occurs in the human genome. Her research is designed to help enable prenatal screening and early diagnosis of autism in children and could one day contribute to creating treatments for the disorder.
Researcher and assistant professor in Molecular Biology; PhD in Molecular Biology
Current Institution: Faculty of Sciences, Saint Joseph University, Beirut, Lebanon
Host Institution: Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Strasbourg, France
A marvel of nature, the immune system recognizes illness-causing bacteria, viruses, damaged cells and other “enemies” and initiates a cascade of rapid responses that eliminates them with stunning effectiveness. Yet in some cases the immune system overreacts and also destroys “friendly” cells that the body needs to function properly, which can result in cancer or chronic inflammatory diseases such as lupus and arthritis. Using fruit flies, Laure El Chamy aims to pinpoint certain of the genes that are activated when the immune system deploys its cascade of responses. By deepening our understanding of the system’s precise mechanisms, Laure’s research is designed to shed light on how we might one day promote the immune response so that the body can combat disease without also attacking cells that are essential for its proper functioning.
Clinician and researcher; PhD in Reproductive Health
Current Institution: National Centre for Maternal and Child Health, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Host Institution: The Women’s Heart Center, Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, Los Angeles, California, USA
Enkhmaa Davaasambuu is a reproductive health specialist who will study why certain women have a greater risk of developing hypertension and preeclampsia during pregnancy than others. She will also investigate why women who develop these conditions during pregnancy are twice as likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease as they age. One aim of Enkhmaa’s research is to contribute to lowering the mortality rate for women and children during pregnancy and childbirth. The second is to gain a better understanding of the timing and nature of cardiovascular disease risk as it emerges after a hypertensive pregnancy in order to create new screening methods and preventive treatments.
Postdoctoral researcher; PhD in Biology
Current Institution: Abdelmalek Esaadi University, Faculty of Science, Tetouan, Morroco
Host Institution: Department of Parasitology, University of Granada, Spain
Leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease transmitted by sand flies, is endemic in 88 countries and nearly 2 million new cases are reported annually. One form of the illness causes disfiguring skin lesions and another attacks the liver and can be fatal if left untreated. The rural population of Naima Abattouy’s native Morocco is particularly affected by leishmaniasis, with women and children disproportionately afflicted and outbreaks becoming more numerous every year. Naima will study the sand fly carrier in the laboratory and conduct field research in her country to determine the environmental and lifestyle factors that facilitate the spread of the disease. Naima’s findings will be key to health authorities throughout the world and potentially protect millions from suffering and death.
Environment and Toxicology
Environment and Toxicology
Lecturer and Postdoctoral researcher; PhD in Biochemistry
Current Institution: University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Host Institution: Laboratory of Molecular and Environmental Microbiology, Institute of Agrophysics, Lublin, Poland
The Niger Delta region of Nigeria is threatened with severe pollution from petroleum and other industrial contamination that leaves precious agricultural land unfit for use. Highly toxic chemicals risk entering the food chain with subsequent catastrophic effects on human health. Eucharia Nwaichi will study the potential use of living plants in providing a viable solution to this problem. Plants can rid the soil of pollutants either by transforming them into less harmful substances or by binding them inside their own tissues. Eucharia will assess the suitability of two local plant species for cleaning up polluted land in the Niger Delta so that it can be used for much-needed food crops.
Medical doctor and PhD student in Immunology
Current Institution: aculty of Medicine, University of Khartoum, Sudan
Host University: Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, Uppsala University, Sweden
Losing a baby before birth is a heart-wrenching experience for over 3 million women across the world every year. This experience is even more traumatic when it is repeated with subsequent pregnancies. Such recurrent stillbirths are often linked to auto-immune conditions and Sahwa Adil Nourein hopes to shed light on this phenomenon by studying the link between stillbirth and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease suspected to be among the possible causes. She aims to determine whether the high incidence of stillbirths in Sudan is directly linked to SLE and she will conduct a comparative study of Swedish and Sudanese women suffering from the same condition in order to determine whether ethnicity is a factor. The ultimate goal of Sahwa’s research is to find treatments for pregnant women that will improve their chances of having a healthy baby.