Interview with Macarena Larroudé

Congratulations on successfully defending your PhD thesis! Could you tell us a bit about your research?

Thank you!

My work, at INRAE (France), was about developing the “non-conventional” yeast Yarrowia lipolytica as a platform for the production of aromatic compounds, several of which have a high industrial value. To achieve this, first I worked on the development of synthetic biology tools dedicated for this yeast, in order to construct complex strains in a more efficient way. This led to the creation of modular systems. One of them involved the assembly of up to 13 parts of DNA, including 3 genes, for the construction of complex synthetic pathways and the other one involved the expression of CRISPR systems in different genetic backgrounds strains of Y. lipolytica, including wild-type strains. The tools were then used to engineer the metabolism of the yeast and construct, in a fast and efficient way, chassis strains with an increased pool of aromatic amino acids. These customized strains were then tested as cell factories for the synthesis of several aromatic compounds.

What has been your experience of doing a PhD within a large consortium project?

The experience was great! It gave me the opportunity to meet awesome people, great scientists and to grow professionally and personally in a really motivating environment.

The experience also enabled lots of feedback on my work, discussions on how to improve the work, the opportunity to learn how big projects work, the opportunity to learn about other fields than mine (e.g. bioinformatics, industry, K. marxianus), and to have a more global vision on how research is done…just to name a few!

The experience for me was absolutely a positive one! And I am grateful to have been a part of it.

What has been the highlight from your PhD?

It is difficult to say! I am very happy with all that I have experienced during my PhD. Being a part of a large and international consortium is for sure one of the highlights.

Do you have any advice for students embarking on a PhD?

I think that the experience is worth it. As a word of advice, I think it is important to find a subject that you are really interested in, and that motivates you, because it is a lot of work and sometimes you have to deal with frustrations. So, it is much easier if you like what you are doing. Also, try to have patience, perseverance and an ability to adapt!

What do you plan to do next in your career?

I will still be working in CHASSY for some months, which will give me the opportunity to continue to improve my chassis strains. After that, I would like to continue doing research on synthetic biology, but I don’t know where yet.

What impact do you think synthetic biology will have on the bioeconomy in the years to come?

I think synthetic biology will have a big impact on the bioeconomy.

Nowadays, there is a global effort to move to more sustainable and less environmentally damaging processes, and biotechnology is a centrepiece on this development. As part of white biotechnology, the use of cells as factories to produce molecules to replace those coming from the oil industry is an ever-increasing approach. Synthetic and systems biology are playing a central role in this development by proving tools that allow a faster and more efficient design and construction of the desired cell. Several programs around the globe are promoting this research in order to speed up their developments and applications. Thus, synthetic biology has a promising future and will continue to have an impact on the bio-based economy.

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