Meet an MSCAfellow@MUNI: Andrea Simeunovic

26. Feb. 2020

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International researchers and scientists returning to the Czech Republic after long-term international experience coming to CEITEC through so-called mobility projects are a very valuable part of the scientific community. They are experienced, postdoctoral researchers who received a grant under the International Mobility of Researchers - MSCA - IF funded by the MEYS through the OP RDE program. This mobility allows them to devote their research projects to CEITEC and gain new expertise. Postdocs usually spend two to three years at CEITEC, and their grants cover their salaries, mobility allowances, research costs, and overhead costs for the host institution. Today, we would like to introduce MSCAfellow@MUNI Andrea Simeunovic, from the Helene Robert Boisivon Research Group. We asked Andrea to answer a few questions for us:

What is the main objective of your research?

We work on the plant hormone called auxin. Auxin is instrumental in driving proper plant development, and it is involved in the plant response to certain stimuli, such as light.It was Charles Darwin who first noticed that plantlets bend towards light, and now we know that is due to auxin. Not much is known about how the regulation of auxin biosynthesis occurs, and that is the main objective of my research, to identify the transcriptional regulators of auxin biosynthesis.

How does your research impact society?

One of the things we are looking into is auxin activity in the regulation of seed and fruit development. The growth of the world population and the increasing demand for securing food production is pivotal. Having a technology that can increase seed quality and yield under more challenging climate conditions is one of the most important goals of agricultural biotechnology. Understanding how auxin regulation in these processes occurs will definitely be of significant value in the plant biotech sector in the production of the crops with improved seed quality and yield.

What interesting findings have you reached so far?

There has been a lot of work done on the transport of auxin and how it affects transcriptional changes, but interestingly enough, not much is known about how the transcriptional regulation of auxin biosynthesis, itself, occurs. We believe to have identified two (what we call) “circuits of transcriptional regulations” that might differently regulate spatial and temporal auxin biosynthesis during seed and fruit development.

Why did you choose to become a scientist?

As a kid and as a teenager, I watched every single documentary on wildlife and life sciences. I suppose I was always interested in knowing why things are the way they are, and wanted to be a biologist.

What inspired you to become a plant scientist?

During my university studies, I took a biochemistry course taught by a professor who was the Head of the Plant Biochemistry Department, and dedicated mostly to photosynthesis research. When he was covering this subject, he was particularly animated and engaged as a lecturer. Once, he dedicated a whole hour to the reparation of photosynthetic machinery. It was a fascinating lecture, and he framed it as the most important process that occurs in nature.  It made me look at plants in a different way, and realize just how important and complicated their biology is.  This was one of the best lectures I had at the university, and it motivated me and a couple of my colleagues to join his department for the Master’s thesis and to get into the field of plant biology.

What was the most challenging moment in your scientific career?

I cannot think of anything big, but for me, and as for many, there is a time when you have the feeling that your project is stuck and you think that you do not have any solutions. My former colleague told me that in those situations, using your ability to network and the expertise of the people in your department and institute, and asking for collaboration can get you unstuck because your colleagues would bring a fresh, new prospective and solutions that you might have not thought of!

What was the biggest surprise for you when you joined CEITEC?

A positive surprise for me was the quality of the institute and how well it was equipped. And of course, the Life Science Seminar Series and Mendel Lecture Seminar Series, where have really top-notch scientists coming to give lectures. I was not expecting CEITEC to have the capacity to offer its staff and students exposure to some of the most brilliant scientists out there.