Professor María Suárez Diez has been appointed as the new chairholder at the laboratory of Systems and Synthetic Biology at Wageningen University & Research. She joined the group in 2011, became associate professor in 2020 and has now officially started as chairholder.
New ways of using microbes
Suárez Diez: “Systems and Synthetic biology are new technologies with an enormous potential. In the laboratory of Systems and Synthetic Biology we are committed to deploy experimental methods to generate more and more accurate measures and to develop mathematical models to understand cellular processes. We imagine (and build) new ways of using microbes, to address agricultural, environmental, biotechnological and medical challenges. It is a great group to become chairholder of.”
From Spain to France to Germany to Wageningen
María Suárez Diez grew up in Oviedo Spain, where she graduated in physics. For her PhD she chose to study the cosmological implications of high energy physics. However Suárez Diez was always fascinated by biology and the challenges it presents. Just after obtaining her PhD, she moved to France and into biology joining the Synthetic Biology group at Ecole Polytechnique where she applied her knowledge of subatomic physics to the design of proteins with targeted functionalities. After her stay in France, Suárez Diez moved to Germany, to the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research and started developing mathematical models to understand how microbes respond to changes in the environment, how microbes interact to form communities, the positive or negative impact they can have in other organisms and how they can be modified and domesticated.
Fascinated by complexity
Suárez Diez became fascinated by the complexity of living organisms: “The properties of living organisms cannot be explained by just characterizing each of their parts. Instead life results from the complex interaction between the parts of the system and between the system and its environment.”
Measuring the building blocks of life
She continues: “Cells simultaneously perform hundreds of interconnected chemical reactions. These ‘networks’ of reactions change to adapt to the environmental conditions. For instance the reactions are very different when a microbe is growing in ideal conditions, such as a pleasantly warm temperature and with lots of sugar available or when it has to adapt to extreme conditions, such as low temperatures and having only proteins to feed on. Studying these changes is complex, but in recent years, there has been an enormous advance on measuring methods and technologies. Nowadays it is possible to simultaneously measure the building blocks of life such as DNA, RNA, proteins and small chemical molecules in the organism. These measures require exhaustive mathematical analysis to fully grasp their meaning and to build a representation based on mathematical equations. That is what we aim to explore much more of.”