Tell us about your career so far
It all began when I was an undergraduate student in Sicily, and I realised how much I loved studying molecular mechanisms and planning the next experiment to add another piece to the puzzle of our observations.
After my master's thesis internship and a brief research stay in the US, I started a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences in Italy, focused on computational methods for drug design.
Although I liked computational work, I very much preferred doing experiments at the bench, and I was particularly interested in structural biology and chemical biology.
That’s what I did for my first postdoc - I moved to Scotland to join Helen Walden’s lab at the MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit (PPU), for a project in collaboration with Alessio Ciulli. I truly enjoyed benchwork and I learned a lot- it felt like switching fields after my PhD. For this reason I decided to do a second postdoc and I moved to Vienna, joining the Clausen lab.
Where were you before joining the Crick?
I was in Vienna, at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP). I was a postdoc in the Clausen lab, which focuses on the molecular mechanisms of protein quality control. I took the challenge to apply chemical biology to interfere with bacterial protein degradation pathways. Our work opened up novel avenues for antibiotic discovery, which I will now explore further at the Crick.
What attracted you to the Crick?
I always knew that any institute with a narrow focus would not be a fit for my research group. I love interdisciplinary research, pushing boundaries across disciplines and stepping outside the comfort zone.
The Crick was the dream place, with its multidisciplinary research structured without separate departments, and with the incredible support offered by the science technology platforms. I also really liked the idea that early career group leaders are the core of Crick’s faculty. There are many other things that attracted me to the Crick, including the generous support package, numerous collaboration opportunities, as well its location in the heart of London.
What will your lab be working on?
My lab will explore targeted protein degradation technology in bacteria, with a focus on antibiotic discovery. Every cell – from bacterial cells to plant or animal cells – has a way to control and dispose of the ‘protein waste’ through targeted degradation of proteins that are damaged or not needed at a specific time. We want to study these protein degradation pathways in different disease-causing bacteria, focusing on the structure, function and substrate preferences of their components.
This knowledge will allow us to develop small molecules that ‘reprogramme’ degradation pathways towards proteins that are essential for bacterial survival. With this reprogramming strategy, essential bacterial proteins are ‘lost in the waste’ causing irreversible damage to the bacterial cell. We believe that this approach can help us develop novel antibiotics and counteract antimicrobial resistance, an ever-growing public health concern.
How are you settling in to life in London?
I spent my last weeks in Vienna packing boxes and planning the relocation, so now I can’t wait to get started with science! Last week I settled into my new office, next to my lab space which will be soon filled with equipment and lab members. I’m so grateful for everyone’s help so far, making sure I feel welcome and fully supported in setting up my lab as soon as possible.
As a European scientist, my transition to the UK was not as easy as it was some years ago, but everything went smoothly thanks to the Crick’s support. Now I’m enjoying London very much, especially during these sunny spring days.
Who are you looking forward to working with at the Crick?
Anyone interested in structural biology, chemical biology, molecular mechanisms, microbiology, infection biology, and maybe more. I look forward to recruiting the first lab members and collaborating with group leaders and science technology platform leads. It would be unfair to mention just a few names, but some collaborations are already on the way.
And finally - in an alternate universe where you weren’t a researcher, what would you be doing?
I would probably be a different type of researcher. Instead of microscopic microbes and proteins, I would study the universe, stars and black holes. I have always found that fascinating!