Tell us about your current research.
I’m working in bacteria, and I work in two different model systems. One of them is an antibiotic resistant, and an opportunistic pathogen. The difference between an opportunistic and a real pathogen is that the first one really infects people that have problems with the immune system. I’m interested in learning how is it that opportunistic pathogens that do not really have any genes that will permit infection can actually infect people. The pathogen I’m interested in, Acinetobacter baumannii, is multidrug resistant and also survives desiccation for a very long time. So, we are studying how is it that it survives desiccation and how it mutates. I’m also studying mechanisms of regulation of DNA polymerases that are error prone, i.e. mutagenic, in E. coli. How is it that E. coli regulates these enzymes? So the first model system is very general and very nice and it has very interesting biological implications. The other one is very mechanistic, very dry, but interesting as well.
In summary, I’m looking at understanding how is it that these bacteria mutate, how do they survive in the host/environment, and how do they do and regulate all of these things.
What drew you to your field?
I think I’ve never grown out of the “why.” Children go through the “why” stages; I never got out of that stage. So because of that, I think I became a molecular biologist because I really wanted to know what was behind things. At the time, I couldn’t actually do any molecular biology in Chile – I’m originally from Chile – so I had to leave and come here, and I did, and I stayed.
What do you like most about being a faculty member at Northeastern?
It’s the interaction with the students, that’s what drives pretty much everything. And of course the research, because I’m excited about learning about things, but talking to the students really keeps me going, and also I hope it keeps me young.
What is your favorite part about Northeastern?
It’s hanging out with the students. I led a dialogue in the summer and I stayed with the students for a month. That was incredible. We went to the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world, it is very remote and also a beautiful part of Chile, and I wanted to sample for bacteria – still part of the “Why?” It was so much fun!
What is your favorite part about Boston?
Its sports. I am a sports fanatic. I love the Patriots, the Celtics are doing great, the Bruins are just so much fun, and, of course, the Sox are close to my heart. I love that. People tell you that Boston people are dry and no fun, which is not true, because if you talk to the fanatics, you know it’s not true.
What advice would you give to new and current COS graduate students?
I would say follow your passions. Because it’s hard, whatever you need to do is fun, but at the same time, involves a lot of work, so the only way that you’re going to go through that is by doing what you really love.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself.
I dressed as Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus for Halloween.