Irma, tell us about your research.
My research focuses on transposons, pieces of DNA that can move from one location to another in genomes. By moving DNA around, transposons transfer genes between genomes and can alter genomic information. This natural ability of transposons can be used to artificially modify genomes for basic research and medicine. In my lab, we want to study the mechanisms that transposons use to mobilize DNA in nature and use this information to develop novel genome engineering technologies.
What do you enjoy most about science?
Science is like the perfect TV series. There's always another exciting episode around the corner. After a long series of trials and errors you finally think you have a solution to the problem. And then the first question that I ask myself is cool, but now what's next? In science, the possibilities are endless, and you can‘t get bored.
What is the medical potential of your work?
Transposons have a huge therapeutic impact. They are already being used in clinical trials to modify human cells for genome therapy. Therefore, by understanding how transposons work and how we can control their activity we can expand and improve their therapeutic potential.
Why did you decide to become a scientist?
When I graduated from high school, I wanted to become a book author because I could use my creativity and imagination every day. At the first scientific meeting I went to, I met a biotechnologist and realized how much creative thinking and imagination also goes into science. For example, imagining how molecules work in a test tube without being able to see them. Reading scientific papers, I realized that there's always a story to tell, not only about how a scientific idea is born, but also about how molecular processes work. That's exactly when I realized that becoming a scientist is something I wanted to do.
What job would you have in an alternate universe?
I love to read detective stories. So in a different universe, I would probably be a detective, gathering and verifying information to understand exactly how a series of events occurred. In this universe, I feel like I'm doing something very similar as a scientist, but the biggest advantage is that molecules don't mind if I'm following them around with a microscope all the time.