News: Extraordinary PhD Award for Crina Popa
Crina Popa, who did her PhD at CRAG under the supervision of Núria Sánchez Coll and Marc Valls, has been awarded with the Extraordinary PhD Award (Premi Extraordinari de Doctorat) from the University of Barcelona (UB) for the academic year 2015-2016. The awarded thesis is entitled “Study of proteins involved in bacterial wilt by expression in heterologous systems”.
Originally from Romania, Crina Popa first arrived at the University of Barcelona when she was granted an Erasmus scholarship during her master degree in Medical Biology. After master graduation, the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness awarded Crina a Predoctoral Research Grant, which led to the four years (2011-2015) PhD project at the CRAG that culminated with the award winning doctoral thesis.
Crina’s PhD project characterized the function of a family of proteins from a bacterial plant pathogen of big economic impact called Ralstonia solanacearum. This bacterium is classified as A2 quarantine pest by the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization (danger to potato and tomato production) and its associated disease, the bacterial wilt, produces enormous economic losses in the agriculture worldwide. To cause bacterial wilt disease, R. solanacearum injects a set of proteins called type III proteins inside plant cells. Therefore, to define proteins that are required for this bacterium to cause disease, it was essential to understand how these act once inside plant cells.
Crina’s results revealed that the heterologous expression of some of these bacterial genes in Saccharomyces cerevisiae targets a very important gene from their hosts. This gene, encoding TOR protein, is conserved in different organisms from microalgae to yeast, animal and human cells, and it has a previous demonstrated role in cellular growth and stress response. Thus, the conclusions of Crina’s work have opened an avenue for future research studies directed towards designing new strategies to fight bacterial infection, for example, making this target unavailable in plants so that the bacterium cannot cause the disease.
Crina’s project resulted in six publications in high impact factor journals: four research articles (Solé et al., 2012; Coll et al., 2014; Popa et al., 2016; Fujiwara et al., 2016) and two reviews (Popa et al., 2016; Popa et al., 2016). After competing with many other PhD thesis projects defended the same academic year, Crina received the Extraordinary PhD Award from the Faculty of Biology of the University of Barcelona.
After obtaining her PhD in Biotechnology, Crina continued her postdoctoral training at CRAG, in the laboratory of Dr. Maria Coca. Recently, Crina has joined the company based in Barcelona ThePaperMill as a project coordinator.