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Proteins are the body’s unsung heroes. When we think about human life, it is probably genes that first spring to mind as being the basis of our existence. Yet strictly speaking genes are nothing but the instructions for the true actors in our bodies – proteins. Without them there would be no life, as they are what enables our cells and tissue to function in the first place. Proteins act as building material, transmitters and enzymes, as well as performing many other functions, constructing our cells and tissue and breathing life into our bodies. Collectively, all the proteins produced in the body are known as the proteome. Because the proteome is responsible for countless functions of our cells, it is of extreme importance and relevance to medicine and cell biology.
Dr Verónica Dumit has expert knowledge of this biological marvel. The proteome is the focus of her research work. Originally from Argentina, she is “Head of the CF Proteomics” at the University of Freiburg’s Center for Biological Systems Analysis. Together with her research group, she is exploring exactly what role proteins play in the organism and how they interact.
Intensive and fruitful research work
It was somewhat by chance that Verónica Dumit ended up choosing her current field of research and Germany as the place to conduct it. After studying biotechnology in her Argentinian home town of Rosario, she began a PhD course there. Her work at the time was on enzymes. Her interest in Germany was aroused in 2007 when she read a paper by a Bayreuth professor of bioinformatics. “I felt that collaboration could prove very fruitful. What is more, I was interested in the instruments that had been used in the experiments.”
Soon after, the biotechnologist successfully applied for a short-term research grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). She spent three months in the Bayreuth lab, researching and testing out new methods. “The results were very good”, remembers Verónica Dumit. She also spent other periods conducting research in Germany during her PhD.
Germany: first choice
“I learnt an incredible amount in Bayreuth. What I particularly appreciate about German research institutions is that it is normal to regularly engage in exchange with academics who work in fields not directly related to one’s own. This provides one with entirely new ways of looking at one’s own discipline”, says Verónica Dumit. This is why Germany was her first choice of research location after completing her PhD. She stumbled across a fascinating postdoc position at the University of Freiburg. “The focus was on proteins, however. Although I had a theoretical knowledge of the field, I had little practical experience of it at that time”, explains the researcher. Nonetheless, she was given the opportunity to prove herself – something else she likes about German universities and research institutions: “Academics are given the possibility to evolve within their subject”, says Verónica Dumit.
Possibility to run her own research group
At the age of only 36, the biotechnologist already runs her own research group – Core Facility Proteomics (CFP) – at the University of Freiburg. The group is researching the proteome and analysing how proteins react under different conditions. “This is important if we are to characterise and identify diseases. For example, we compare proteins in cancer cells with those in healthy cells”, explains Dumit. The group also serves as a kind of internal service provider at the University of Freiburg, conducting many measurements and tests for others.
“I feel free and safe”
The young researcher has lived in Germany without any long breaks since 2011. “I feel free and very safe here”, she says, adding with a laugh: “The only thing I sometimes miss a little is the Argentinian sun.” Verónica Dumit spoke no German when she left Argentina, but now has a good command of the language. She mostly speaks English in the lab, however, which tends to be the working language in the sciences in Germany.