'A new Chapter'

'A new Chapter'

Interview with Igor Iatsenko, new group leader at the MPIIB

October 02, 2019
Igor Iatsenko studied microbiology in Kiev and did his PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen. This was followed by a postdoc-position at École polytechnique de Lausanne in Switzerland. On October 1st, he started his work as group leader of the research group “Genetics of Host-Microbe Interactions” at the MPIIB. The group will study the host-microbe interactions in the fruit fly Drosophila, with a focus on how pathogens cause disease and how perturbations of beneficial microbes harm the fly.

You will start your work at the MPIIB in October – What will the next weeks bring for you?

It’s going to be a busy time, but I am quite lucky: I can take over a lot of really good equipment from a recently closed lab. This definitely makes my life easier. Nevertheless, the main challenge will be to equip a completely new fly facility for our research on Drosophila. I also need to think about hiring PhD students, which is a completely different aspect and really new for me.

From a personal perspective, I need to get used to Berlin. My family and I will start looking for a place to live soon. We will have to arrange everything around our relocation to Berlin and I’ve been told it is not the easiest place to find an apartment.

You spent some time in the Max Planck "Universe" before - are you happy to be back?

I am of course very happy. Already during my PhD at the MPI in Tübingen I realized that the Institutes are among the best places to do science. Now as group leader I can enjoy even more freedom – I can run my own projects without any major restrictions. That’s just what any scientist could hope for: to be able to do the research you want with sufficient resources. And the environment is very stimulating. You are surrounded by leaders in their fields, which really drives your own research. I am definitely looking forward to be back again.

What where the steps of your career so far?

I did my PhD at the MPI for Developmental Biology in Tübingen with the group of Ralf Sommer. In Tübingen I worked on interactions between nematodes (roundworms) and bacteria. I used the nematode C. elegans as a model host to understand the mechanisms of defence against a specific bacterium – Bacillus thuringiensis. I studied how this bacterium infects and kills nematodes and how C. elegans and its microbiota respond to this pathogen. Essentially, I was able to show during my PhD how the microbiota of C. elegans protect it from a Bacillus thuringiensis infection.

This success made me want to stay in the field of host-microbe interactions. For my postdoc I joined the Lab of Bruno Lemaitre at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. There I studied the immune response in the fruit fly Drosophila. The main aim of the project was to characterize a certain receptor called peptidoglycan recognition protein that was known to indirectly kill bacteria in insects. In a first paper, I described how it detects bacteria and in a second paper, I studied the role of this receptor in the fly gut. I found that flies that don’t have this receptor can’t control their microbiome­ ­– with drastic consequences: these flies are for example especially short lived. Well that was my postdoc. Now I’m lucky to start a new chapter at the MPIIB as a research group leader.

What are the challenges and hopes for your new role as Research Group Leader?

I hope to advance science by making important contributions to the field of host microbe interactions. As a research group leader, I am taking a completely new role: I am not only doing my research myself but with the help of a team. This will definitely advance my research, but I also need to supervise and guide my students. I will need to develop my leadership skills to be able to do that, while taking the responsibility for a high quality scientific output. There are many challenges, but I am quite enthusiastic and I think that it will be a great time!

What do you personally enjoy about doing science?

The moment of discovery! It is a moment that you can only experience by doing science. You come to the lab one day, check your results, recheck your results and you suddenly realize that you know the answer to your question. That is the best moment – that’s the moment that I really enjoy when I do science.

 The interview was conducted by Christian Denkhaus

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