Teresa Lettieri - Principal Investigator of the Molecular Ecology Laboratories in the Rural Water and Ecosystem Resources Unit - IES, Ispra, Italy
Principal Investigator of the Molecular Ecology Laboratories in the Rural Water and Ecosystem Resources Unit at the Institute for Environment and Sustainability at the Joint Research Centre, Ispra, Italy.
I am a molecular and cellular biologist. After graduating in Biological Science at the University of Naples, I did a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Zurich. I worked on a post-doctorate at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich from 1999 to 2002. During my PhD I was also awarded an EMBO fellowship to work at the University of Cologne in Germany to generate, in collaboration with the German group, a knockout mouse.
At the JRC since...
My team and I are involved in the quality assessment of marine and surface water using molecular biology-based techniques to develop new tools. The molecular ecology laboratories focus on the identification of more specific and sensitive biomarkers to detect the effects of environmental stressors (e.g. pesticides, pharmaceutical compounds) on aquatic organisms. We set up tools to quantify and characterise the changes in microbial biodiversity due to anthropogenic pressures (pollutants, nutrients, temperature) and we address the impact of environmental stressors at ecosystem level.
Describe a normal working day
Every day is different from the next; I do not really have a 'routine day'. I arrive quite early in the morning and I start work immediately: writing projects, papers, reading or preparing documents to report our activities. Then I discuss with my colleagues about plans for experiments, problems or practical issues. Once a week we have a laboratory meeting to discuss the progress of projects.
What inspires you in the job you do?
Passion for science! Before, I worked in the biomedical field, then when I joined the JRC I switched to the environmental field. I realised that what we do can contribute to improve the sustainability of our environment, as well as the protection of the ecosystem which we belong to and therefore which we should take care of.
What are the advantages of working as a scientist for the European Commission?
The JRC hosts scientists from all over the world. It is a multicultural environment and therefore a stimulating and dynamic place. Furthermore, the JRC is a multidisciplinary organisation which facilitates the collaboration and the possibility to access many facilities. For me, the great level of personal support that the JRC provides has been very important, for example, access to excellent childcare facilities. When I arrived, I was alone with my one year-old child since my husband was still working in Zurich. It was important to have a childcare facility since it allowed me to keep working full time. At that time, I needed the nursery facility, and now my children (9 and 7 years old), are at an after-school facility.
Have you done any work at the JRC that you are particularly proud of?
I am particularly proud of three events; in 2007, I was awarded the best peer-reviewed scientific publication by the JRC Excellence Awards. The second event was in 2009 when I submitted a proposal for a scientific session to participate at the most important scientific conference organised by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for the Annual Meeting 2010 in San Diego (USA). My proposal which focused on the application of post-genomics' techniques to ecology was accepted. It was very successful and attended mostly by young people.
The third event was during the JRC Open day in 2009 when I organised a molecular ecology activity for children. Our team simulated a day in the lab where the children could do some molecular biology activities using laboratory equipment. I believe that communication is extremely important, and to communicate science to children is even more important.