Written by Nóra Lehotai and Fabiola Puertolas Balint.
I had a chat with Fabiola Puertolas Balint who is a doctoral student in Björn Schröder’s group. Her grandfather left Spain for Mexico during the Spanish civil war and stayed there to start a family. Fabiola left Mexico to come to Europe for her studies. Where will she settle? That is still a mystery.
Picture: Fabiola Puertolas Balint. Credit: Astrid Espinoza Sánchez.
Can you tell us about your role at MIMS, what are you working on now?
“I study the function of intestinal antimicrobial peptides.”
These can be seen as antibiotics we produce naturally in our intestine to protect us from all the bacteria living in the gut.
“I am working with 4-5 different families of these peptides, and more and more are being discovered. I am interested in understanding how they are shaping the microbiota since we want these antimicrobials to kill the bad guys, the harmful bacteria, but not the good ones. I am also looking into how diets influence the expression of these peptides, focusing on high fat diets, also called Western style diets.”
What were you doing before you joined MIMS and what attracted you to start a position here?
“I grew up in Mexico and lived there until 2017. After I finished my Bachelor’s in pharmacology, I worked at a company for a short time, then I applied for an Erasmus International Master’s programme.”
Fabiola came to Europe via this programme to study in the Netherlands in the first year and during the second year, in Sweden, in Uppsala. While studying in Uppsala, she had the opportunity to work in two different labs doing internships instead of lectures.
“I worked with antibiotic resistance mechanisms of E. coli and host-microbe interactions between Helicobacter pylori and different Lactobacilli strains by infecting primary gastric epithelial cells. We received cells from stomach biopsies to use as research material. It was very fascinating to work with primary cells and bacteria from the stomach.”
She enjoyed living in Sweden so she looked for a PhD position here. In Uppsala, she heard about MIMS and when she went to the website, she found out that Björn was recruiting people as a new PI.
“The offered topic was a perfect match as I really enjoy working with bacteria. The recruitment went fast, and I joined his group as the first member.”
If you would not have your current profession, what do you think you would be doing?
“I always played with the thought of becoming a chef but then I realized that it is more of a hobby. So, I would say, I would be a psychiatrist, as I find the human brain fascinating, but also because I believe mental disorders require to be addressed more in today’s society, says Fabiola.”
Picture: Enjoying the view from the High coast with Supapit Wongkuna. Credit: Alexandra Berg.
What do you do in your free time and what are you most enjoying in living in Umeå, Sweden?
“I go a lot to Iksu as sports are very important in my life.”
Fabiola has tried a lot of new sports in Sweden, such as beach volleyball, climbing, squash and most recently, pickleball. She likes to go out with friends, play games (video-, and boardgames), hike, and generally go on trips together with friends. During winter, she particularly enjoys winter sports like downhill skiing and cross-country skiing.
“I like the work-life balance here, that they recognize that you need to have time for your private life too, in order to stay efficient at work, continues Fabiola. In many countries, competition is encouraged at a high level among young researchers while in Sweden, I feel it is more relaxed but still reaching the bar of high-quality research. Coupled with outdoor activities, Sweden is a great place to live and work.”
Is there a little known/interesting fact about yourself?
“I love the country I was born in, especially the Mexican cuisine, and the festive feeling of it all. I am proud of being able to prepare traditional dishes. One of my favorites is “mole poblano”, which is a chicken stew made with four different kinds of chilies, chocolate, tomato base, served with Mexican style rice and sesame seeds on top. Unlike what you would expect from a dish having chocolate, this dish is spicy and not sweet.”
Picture: Mole poblano with Mexican style rice and salad. Private picture of Fabiola Puertolas Balint.