A short but wonderful Scottish experience

Feb ,13 2017

Important aspects of the INBIONET PhD program are collaboration and experience gained at institutions other than the home university to obtain a broad training in the field of infectious diseases. During network meetings I could learn from other fellows about their projects, with topics ranging from RNA viruses, bacteria, and helminths, to the adaptive immune system. Training units organised by the different network partners aimed to introduce us to specific techniques, which we might then incorporate into our own projects. Key mandatory activities were the secondments, where fellows would visit another INBIONET laboratory for 4-6 months to experience a different environment, ideally complementing their project with different techniques.

My project at Trinity College Dublin is focussed on the viral strategies that the virus Vaccinia possesses to manipulate early detection by the innate immune system. I had identified eight viral gene products at this stage, which were able to impair the intracellular alarm system in human cells. During my secondment, I stayed in Prof Rick Randall’s laboratory in St. Andrews, Scotland, from January to May 2015. His laboratory focuses on RNA viruses and their interaction with interferon, which is an innate immune defence factor. The aim of my stay was to familiarise myself with techniques used in a virology laboratory and there evaluate the ability of my viral gene products to impair the innate immune responses which are elicited by cells upon infection with RNA viruses.

I had a great time in St. Andrews, learned new techniques, made new friends inside and outside academia, attended the Glasgow Virology Workshop, and got to visit parts of Scotland that I had never seen.

The Biomedical Sciences Research Complex and the Randall lab
I had been to St. Andrews before and knew how pretty this small town by the sea was, so I was really looking forward to visiting Rick and the group. The institute was only a 10 min walk from the city centre, and from our floor we had a great view over the Old Course.

The institute contained a few virology groups, which was a nice change from Dublin, where the predominant focus was on immunology. It was a very friendly atmosphere in the building and everyone tried to help out whenever they could. We all got together for the annual celebration of the Scottish poet, Burns, which was a great opportunity to meet everyone in the department and get introduced to haggis and ceilidh (Scottish traditional folk dance). Rick’s group (that is; Rick and Rick’s wife Liz, Dan, Dave, Diane, Chris, Fran, and Lena) were all present and showed off their dancing skills. Other get-togethers would follow this one, such as a dinner hosted by Rick and Liz at their home. I greatly appreciated the familiar atmosphere in the group, which made it easier to find my place in this environment.

Even more virology
Visiting Rick’s laboratory also meant that I would attend the 20th Glasgow virology workshop. A great selection of international researchers in the field of virology and antiviral immune defences spoke at the meeting, which ended (not surprisingly) with another ceilidh.
During my time in St.Andrews I also attended the annual meeting of the Society of General Microbiology and presented my results during the antiviral defence poster session. I had been to a conference before, however this was a more aggregable experience, because many of the people I knew from St. Andrews were attending, which also meant that they would introduce me to their friends and colleagues, who were now working in other institutes.

Beautiful Scotland
St. Andrews is one of these old stone university towns with a lot of history and many traditions, the beach is a stone’s throw away, the surrounding nature is stunning, and well…there is the golf course…and it’s where Will met Kate, as just a few local stores will remind you. Fran, another INBIONET member, made sure that I would see more than just St.Andrews; we visited Glasgow, the castle of Sterling, and I went to the isle of May, which is a stunning small island near St.Andrews where more than 200,000 seabirds breed, including puffins.

I greatly enjoyed my stay in St.Andrews and hope to visit the friends I’ve made soon.