Nico Blanco, ICGEB Alumnus reports on his experience as a SMART Fellow

by Nico Blanco, ICGEB SMART FELLOW (Reporting on his First Semester 2018, at the Institute of Botany, Bratislava, Slovakia)

The ICGEB Arturo Falaschi SMART Fellowship Programme provides support to young researchers who wish to develop scientific projects working in Groups in ICGEB Member States. After a six-month stay at Ján Jásik’s lab in Bratislava, Nico Blanco from Rosario, Argentina looks back and reflects on the success of the programme.

I am a young researcher with a scientific background in photosynthesis. My interest is to understand the mechanisms that plants deploy to face fluctuating and sometimes stressful environmental conditions, which are a direct consequence of the changes that planet Earth has experienced in the last years. I work at a pioneer institute in photosynthesis research (CEFOBI-UNR/CONICET, Rosario, Argentina). Our institute has a long tradition in C3/C4 photosynthetic research and plant physiology, and currently is developing new exciting research lines. Among these, plant live imaging techniques are tools that are gaining importance in our everyday research and I am eager to establish these new cutting edge technologies for my own research line and in CEFOBI.

Less than a year before my stay in Slovakia, I decided to visit Ján´s Group to learn about photoconvertible fluorescence proteins and to adapt his extensive experience and expertise to my model system. We therefore contacted the ICGEB office regarding the details of the application and wrote the project together. Once our project was awarded, I had continuous and helpful email exchange with the ICGEB programme coordinator and secretary to define details of the visit, trip, visa documents, and to address all my doubts and questions. The clarity, flexibility and efficiency in communication with ICGEB and the Argentinean liaison officer (Prof. Silvia Moreno) were essential to arrange the stay in an easy and fast manner.

Also during my stay in Slovakia these aspects of the fellowship administration were very important to focus on the proposed project. During my stay at the Institute of Botany, sharing the everyday work routine with Jan´s Group allowed me to be swiftly involved in experiments to adapt Jan´s work to my own system. The implementation of the proposed experiment was simplified thanks to the bench fee provided by ICGEB as part of the SMART programme. At the same time, the interaction with Jan and his Group gave me the possibility to discuss and challenge my own hypothesis with a group of young researchers with different backgrounds and full of enthusiasm to do Science. Working together led to a mutual exchange of scientific knowledge and enriched the functioning of this new research group.

With this stay, I was able to greatly move forward my project and made important steps towards accomplishing its goals. In addition, I had the opportunity to make short trips that boosted my research. In the middle of the development of the project, I travelled to visit UPSC (Umeå, Sweden) to acquire skills in Microscopy at the Facilities hosted by Prof Åsa Strand. In addition, my participation in an EMBO workshop in my research field was the kick-off to establish further collaborations with groups in France and Switzerland, which would have been much harder to coordinate from Argentina.

In summary, in my opinion and based on the experience of developing my own project in Ján Jásik´s Group, I would qualify the programme as extremely successful in scientific terms and very helpful for the development of my professional career. Due to this, I highly recommend to young researchers that want to expand and shape their professional profile to use this opportunity to realise a project with a Group abroad. The Arturo Falaschi ICGEB SMART Programme offers the support to transform these ideas into a fruitful and exciting scientific collaboration at the host laboratory. This opportunity is certainly the kick-off to improve your own career as well as the perspective of your home institute.

The next closing date for Applications is 30 September 2018.