Margarida Amaral


Ivo Telley and Erin Tranfield


On 18 July, the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Lisbon and EMBL organised an event dedicated to molecular biology in Portugal and at EMBL – local alumni were involved as co-organisers, speakers and participants.

We spoke to co-organiser and EMBL alumna Margarida Amaral, now Head of the Center for Biodiversity, Functional & Integrative Genomics (BioFIG) at the University of Lisbon’s Faculty of Science (FCUL) about the event and her research. See interview with Margarida Amaral

We also spoke with two recent postdocs, and newlyweds, now working at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC) as group leader, Ivo Telley, and Electron Microscopy Facility Head, Erin Tranfield, who joined other alumni at a roundtable lunch with EMBL Director General Iain Mattaj.

Interview with Ivo Telley and Erin Tranfield

What did you gain from this event?
Ivo: I looked forward to learning about the research experiences of other alumni, and their transition to institutes in Portugal. I also valued Iain’s message to the Portuguese research community: in short, opportunities are there but you have to be proactive.
Erin: I enjoyed the discussion with Iain, and the chance to meet other alumni, some of whom I hope to work with in the future.

What drew you to Portugal and the IGC?
Ivo: The IGC is well funded through the Calouste Gulbenkian foundation, and teaching is optional so group leaders can concentrate on their research. Groups are small, most facilities are shared, and interaction between researchers, and therefore collaboration, is very high. Moreover, Erin and I were both offered good positions.
Erin: I was attracted by the enthusiasm of scientists for electron microscopy, the endless opportunities for collaboration, and the opportunity to build an Electron Microscopy Facility to help address their research questions. It’s an added bonus that the IGC is located in such a lovely country as Portugal.

Tell us about your work and future plans.
Ivo: My research background and interest is in physics and the mechanical aspects of cellular processes. I focus on the mechanical characterisation of mitosis, investigating this process in fruit fly embryo, more precisely in the extract of individual embryos, using an assay I developed at EMBL. The plan is to apply the methods to different insects and investigate if there are conserved mechanisms. A long-term goal is to develop tools to decipher the mechanics of chromosome segregation and the accompanying change of the cytoskeleton.
Erin: I’m centralising the institute’s existing electron microscopy infrastructure, and am about to implement a high pressure freezer that will allow us to improve sample preservation and the quality of our ultra-structural investigations – this will increase our research capabilities. I have big dreams to expand the capabilities of our current electron microscopy to include higher resolution transmission and the introduction of scanning.

As well as moving to Portugal, setting up their labs and facilities, Erin and Ivo married in Switzerland on 4 August – congratulations!