25. Apr. 2022

Petr Janas is a PhD student at the Faculty of Science of the Masaryk University (MU) in the field of molecular biology and genetics. Petr´s PhD supervisor is plant cytogeneticist Terezie Malik Mandakova from Martin Lysak Research Group from CEITEC MU. Petr Janas was one of the 25 finalists of the BRNO PhD Talent competition who received 300 000 CZK scholarship to support their career in science. Petr is working on CRISPR/Cas-based editing of plant genomes. He is investigating the exciting journey of chromosome evolution with the aim to use the acquired knowledge to increase the quality and yield of key crops. Read the interview with Petr Janas to find out more about his research, its importance for the society and about his motivation to pursue career in science.

What is your research topic?

The main goal of my research is to re-create chromosomal rearrangements and karyotype structures, which occurred during agriculturally and also for scientists (Arabidopsis thaliana and other model species) important plant family Brassicaceae evolution and speciation using revolutionary CRISPR/Cas tools. Connection between evolution and chromosomal rearrangements has been demonstrated in yeast, insect and animals. However, in plants, under what circumstances chromosomal rearrangements are formed and what are their long-term impacts remains rather unexplored. Besides other applications of CRISPR/Cas, there is rather new approach. By inducing two or more double-strand breaks we can create large chromosomal rearrangements. Chromosome engineering in plants could lead to solve the involvement of chromosomal rearrangements in speciation and evolution.

Why is your research important for the society?

Chromosome engineering is opening new door to crops improvements, thus obtained results will set a stage for practical applications and it will have direct importance to plant breeders. For example, we can restore recombination in previously crossing-over dead region, break or stabilize linkages between genes and possibly change the number of chromosomes, which could lead to reproductive isolation between engineered crops and its wild-type relatives, to prevent undesired outcrossing.

Why did you decide to enter career in science?

The main reason why I applied to Molecular Biology and Genetics was because I want to change something in the world, leave something good for humanity behind me. Master studies provided me true insight into real science. And it awakened a real passion in me. I realized that during whole time of my studies I dreamed that genome engineering will be my main scope of work. And now my dreams are slowly becoming true.

Why did you choose plant science in particular?

Originally, when I applied to college, my dream was to participate in cancer research. My bachelor thesis was focused on cancer research, but I realized that it doesn't satisfy me enough. So, I had to look for something else. I never thought that work with plans will be so amazing. First, I took a part time job as a gardener, where I fell in love with plants, taking care of them. Then I realized that I could move this passion to another – higher level. And when the opportunity to work in our laboratory with plants occurred. I didn´t want to miss this chance and I took advantage of it.

What do you like about working in the Martin Lysak research group?

Friendly team, teambuilding events, …  And most of all support, whether from my supervisor Terezie Malík Mandáková or others in the group. Whenever I can't handle something or something goes wrong, everyone is happy to help me with my problem. But the most important thing for me is motivation. Firstly, when I see what my colleagues can do and what I can learn from them. But also, I think that our research group can lead me in the right direction on the way to become great scientist.

Since you are part of CEITEC you have to use English at work on everyday basis. Do you see it as a problem or as an advantage?

I certainly don't see it as a problem. We went on various exchange stays abroad in high school and it was always a great experience for me. I'm not saying that I somehow excel in English, but the main thing is not to be afraid to speak and after a few days spent abroad or in a group of English-speaking people, you will find out that you already think in English. And also, you can catch a lot from others. On the other hand, I think English is simply inevitable today. I don't know how it works in other fields of study, but at last in natural sciences the vast majority of articles, publications and also communication are in English.

What do you like the most about being a PhD student?

I like the "transition" when I'm both a student and an employee. As a student, I still have some kind of freedom and my job gives me the means to enjoy my free time. But what I like most are the opportunities that PhD study offers. I can (and it is also expected to do so) further develop my professional skills, travel abroad and get to know the world and people with a similar focus and passion for science as me.

What does it mean for you to be one of the winners of the Brno PhD talent competition?

At first, I didn't want to believe it. I thought: where did the mistake happen? Since it was actually the first such competition for me and I placed among the winners, it gave me more passion and enthusiasm for what I do. All you have to do is to make enough effort and love what you're working on, and sooner or later the effort will pay off. Other benefit is that I have my first big event in my curriculum vitae. And I think it helped me in the tenders of other projects and events that await me in the near future.

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