Angel Vergara Cruces

Profile

  • Time Zone
    Central European Time (CET)

  • Organization
    ETH Zurich

  • Role
    Scientist Mentor: I will mentor teams of students online

  • Research Interests (300 words)
    mY MAIN RESEARCH INTEREST ENCOMPASS PLANT-MICROBE INTERACTIONS. PLANTS INTERACT WITH A MYRIAD OF MICROORGANISMS: IN THE SOIL, ON THE ROOT, INSIDE THE PLANT TISSUES (ENDOPHYTES)... SOME OF THESE CAN BE DETRIMENTAL TO THE HOST PLANT (PATHOGENS) AND CAUSE DISEASE, OTHERS MAY BE BENEFICIAL.
    I HAVE WORKED ON PLANT PATHOGENS. I HAVE PREVIOUSLY WORKED WITH VIRUSES, CONCRETELY DNA VIRUSES CALLED GEMINIVIRUSES. tHESE ARE VERY INTERESTING PATHOGENS, BECAUSE THEY MANAGE TO HIJACK THE PLANT MACHINERY FOR THEIR OWN REPRODUCTION WITH A VERY LIMITED SET OF EFFECTORS. THEY ALSO PROLIFERATE VERY RAPIDLY, INTRODUCING VARIATION THROUGH MUTATION AND RECOMBINATION. THIS MEANS THAT A POPULATION OF VIRUSES IS MADE UP OF SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT VARIANTS OF THE VIRUS. IF THERE IS A CHALLENGE (FOR EXAMPLE, THE PLANT IMMUNE SYSTEM) THE WIDE RANGE OF VARIATION MEANS THERE MAY BE ONE VIRAL VARIANT CAPABLE OF OVERCOMING SAID CHALLENGE.
    Concretely, I have worked in the previously mentioned mechanism of “recombination”. This process allows viruses to exchange segments of DNA and leads to an explosion of new varieties. I use lines of a plant called Arabidopsis thaliana to study whether viruses actively increase this recombination process. The special lines that I used develop blue dots when recombination happens, allowing me to measure recombination as the number of blue dots.
    I am fascinated by the capacity of pathogens and plants to adapt to each other and co-evolve in these complex interactions. Of course, this research has great potential to develop new resistant plant varieties and pest management strategies, improving quality of life, particularly in a world facing climate change. I hope to transmit my passion for plants and microbes to the younger generation as a Planting Science mentor.

  • Profile Question 1
    When and why did you decide to go into a science career?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 1 here (300 words):
    I think I was interested in science since I was a kid, though when it became a professional option in high school, I wasn’t sure a science career was for me. I believed I was not good enough for it and that one had to be a genius to consider a science career. What changed my mind was participating in the Spanish Biology Olympiad. I cannot deny the fact that it gave me the validation that maybe I was good at this. However, I also became friends with other students who were also interested in science and were confident about doing a science career. It was their example that decided me to give it a try and study Biochemistry in college.
    I also want to share something that my supervisors told me. It was during the interview, before joining their lab as an intern. I was “giving it a try” but still unsure about whether science was for me. They asked me about my intention of pursuing a science career and I decided to honestly share my insecurities with them. To this day, I still remember their reply. They told me that science was like any other job: there are people who are incredibly good, but most people are “normal”. The important part, like any other job, is to work consistently and believe in your ability. This simple truth demystified the science career for me and gave me the confidence to go for it.
    This is why I really liked the idea of Planting Science. Many students do not have contact with scientists and do not know what science actually entails. As a result, they may not consider a career option they would otherwise be interested in. I hope I can, in turn, contribute to humanizing science for them.

  • Profile Question 2
    What is best about being a scientist?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 2 here (300 words):
    Being a scientist is a very particular type of job. No two days are the same, because you are constantly doing new experiments and trying different things, even if you are working on a narrow scientific question. One of the best things about being a scientist is the “joy of discovery”, the feeling that you are unraveling new knowledge, contributing to a bigger framework. It’s really fulfilling, but it is also rather infrequent since reaching a discovery takes a considerable amount of time.
    Another more consistent thing that I enjoy about being a scientist is the collegial atmosphere. Science is an activity that is done in groups, you are always interacting with people, discussing results, experimental designs, and other people give you different valuable perspectives. Of course, you also get to share non-science things and I would say your colleagues are a major support network when it comes to dealing with stress. Lastly, one thing that people are often not aware of is traveling. As a scientist, you get to travel quite a lot, to present your work at conferences, meet other scientists from other corners of the world. This is really enriching from a personal (as well as a scientific) point of view, and I think it is a neat perk of this job.
    Lastly, I really appreciate the flexibility that it gives you. As a scientist (in academia), you can often define your own schedule. As long as you get the job done, you can start later or start very early, work during the weekend, then get a day off, work from home… All of this is helpful, if you want or need to accommodate other responsibilities, so I think it is a rare privilege that we have.

  • Profile Question 3
    What is tough about being a scientist?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 3 here (300 words):
    I believe the toughest thing about being a scientist lies also in the freedom of this job. You are doing something completely new and this means there is the possibility that you “fail”, meaning you don’t get a result that gives you new information. Actually, we “fail” most of the time, until we get something to work. This requires patience and resilience and, even though we are aware that it is a likely outcome, it still takes a mental toll on us when it seems like nothing works. Additionally, because this job is so flexible, sometimes you might see yourself working long for several days or weeks in a row. We are supposed to set our own boundaries, but the competition is hard and we sometimes fall into the trap of putting in more hours than we should.
    So yes, being a scientist is tough at times, just like any other job is tough at times! Overall, I think the benefits outweigh the tough times. We still can actively seek a proper work-life balance, simply accept when things do not work and let our passion for the beautiful mysteries of nature fuel our way forward.

  • Help represent the outreach efforts of your societies. Please click all those organizations you are a member of:
    (not set)

  • Capacity: How many teams at a time are you comfortable working with?
    2

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