In August 2017, Ben Hur Mussulini came to Poland for the first time. He visited Warsaw for a week, got to know the university and met researchers from the Centre of New Technologies. He also came to decide whether to join the team of Prof. Agnieszka Chacińska.
He found out about the job opportunity in Prof. Chacińska’s Laboratory of Mitochondrial Biogenesis at the end of March. At that time, he was finishing his Ph.D. at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre in Brazil. He took part in one of the events for young scientist organised by the European Molecular Biology Organization. One of the lecturers encouraged the participants to inform themselves about available vacancies on the EMBO website. He found the name of Prof. Chacińska, who he already knew and contacted her. Afterwards, things happened fast. The deadline for the application for the position in CeNT was in April. He decided to give it a try.
The powerhouse of our cells
After his first visit to Warsaw, he was offered a three-month internship in CeNT. In February this year, he was accepted as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the ReMedy Unit headed by Prof. Chacińska. He has signed a contract for the next six months, but he already knows that he wants to stay in CeNT longer, up to 2 or 3 years.
His research interests include the topic of mitochondria and neurometabolism. “Mitochondria are the powerhouse of our cells, converting organic energy present in all the food we digest into ATP, the main energy currency of our body. To do so, it needs to consume oxygen and many pathologies changed how mitochondria works, as well as its oxygen consumption. Studies of Prof. Chacinska’s group will deliver a comprehensive gene expression profile of dysfunctional mitochondria. With my expertise, we will be able to evaluate if such alterations in pathological conditions affect the functionality of mitochondria and if potential therapies are able to reverse the damage,” explains Dr. Mussulini.
As a MA and then Ph.D. student he worked together with scientists from the Latin American countries, as well as from Spain, Portugal and France. But he has never worked abroad before. Now, he has an opportunity to be part of an international team. “In our research group, there are people from South Korea, India, Italy, Switzerland, many places in Poland, people that studied in the USA. It is a really inspiring environment,” says Dr. Mussulini about the Laboratory of Mitochondrial Biogenesis. “People know how to work together. They know that they need each other. They are eager to support the others. I came here because of my specialization in metabolism. But here in CeNT, I have been dealing mainly with fundamental science, sometimes with things that I have never done before. My colleagues know about that much more than me and help me a lot,” he adds.
Asked about the difference between universities in Brazil and Poland, he praises the University of Warsaw for defining its goals. “In Brazil, we had the golden age few years ago. Last decade was really good and universities received a lot of money. But we have focused on doing the same things that we had already done. We did not use this money to do something new, to be better. We just wanted to have more employees, more MA students, more Ph.D. students. Now we have a lot of students and we can pass our knowledge on to the society. But at the same time, we have not really evolved. Here in Poland you received money from the European Union and you built a place like this – the Centre of New Technologies – and you hired people with specific knowledge to achieve something, to develop the research. I think it is the right way,” says Dr. Mussulini. “It is really hard to be a scientist, you are always questioning your results, whether they are good and whether they will get you somewhere. To be able to continue your work, you need some positive examples. The Centre of New Technologies can be an example of what can you accomplish,” he stresses.
Ice skating in Warsaw
In Brazil, there is a large Polish minority so Poland was not completely unknown to him. His great-grandmother emigrated to Brazil from Ukraine, which at that time was a part of Poland. He knew a little bit about Polish culture and cuisine. Now, he enjoys living in Warsaw. “It is a beautiful city,” he raves about it. “It is clean and safe. You have a lot of green areas and places to go to with your family. You have restaurants with food from around the world. Warsaw offers a really good public transport system comparing to where I come from,” he lists the advantages of Warsaw.
Polish weather, so different from the one in Brazil, does not bother him. “I am not used to snow so it is nice to see everything covered with a white layer. I went to the National Stadium and for the first time in my life I was ice skating,” he says.
He has not had a chance to sightsee other regions of Poland yet, but he plans to catch up on it. “My parents will visit me at the end of April. I would like to go to Cracow and then see the mountains.”