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Postdoc María Santos Merino awarded the Clarence Suelter Endowed Postdoctoral Fellowship

María Santos Merino checking her collection of mutant cyanobacteria
María Santos Merino checking her collection of mutant cyanobacteria.
By Rees Rillema

María Santos Merino, postdoctoral researcher from the Ducat lab at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory (PRL), is the first to be awarded the Clarence Suelter Endowed Postdoctoral Fellowship Award from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB).

This fellowship, new to the department in 2022, recognizes outstanding accomplishments and aims to encourage career development. María plans to use the monetary award to visit the University of Turku in Finland to learn a new technique, Membrane Inlet Mass Spectrometry (MIMS).

In March 2021, María published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal. In this research, María engineered two metabolic pathways into cyanobacteria – a photosynthetic bacteria. This proved to increase the organism’s photosynthetic performance and partially protect it from the harmful effects of absorbing too much light.

This opportunity will allow her to acquire a deeper knowledge in photosynthetic techniques, skills she began to develop at MSU through an internal collaboration between the labs of Danny Ducat and David Kramer and published in the aforementioned article. The PRL has a MIMS instrument in the laboratory of Berkley Walker, which is currently only outfitted for solid samples (plant leaves). To learn how to use MIMS for liquid samples (cyanobacterial/algal cultures), María will travel to the University of Turku with the support of the fellowship.

María received her Ph.D. at the Institute of Biotechnology and Biomedicine of Cantabria in Spain. Scientific funding opportunities for postdoctoral researchers are limited in Spain, and María found herself looking for opportunities in other countries to continue making progress in her scientific career.

“Since I joined MSU, I feel like my scientific career has advanced a lot, because I have had more opportunities and funding to do long-term experiments,” María said. “It has made me more comfortable to explore new possibilities that I could not even think of in Spain.”

María joined Danny Ducat’s lab in 2018. She hopes to someday run her own lab at a university.

“María is an exceptionally motivated, bright and talented individual with an enormous curiosity and passion for science,” said Danny, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the PRL. “She is on an accelerating upward trajectory, and it is my opinion that María possesses all of the key attributes necessary to meet her career goals of eventually leading a research team of her own.”

Being in a male-dominated field, María hopes her successes can inspire the next generation of women in STEM.

“Having this opportunity is not only impactful for me, but for all the women who are trying to pursue STEM careers where we need to work harder than men to succeed,” María said.

By Kara Headley; Banner image by María Santos Merino