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“Eduardo Moreno通過第一次選擇,因為他那強有力的紀錄,并通過最后一輪,這歸功于他的創新性,但具有很強針對性的科研經費,”歐洲研究委員會陪審團主席Susan Gasser寫道。

對于一個成功的職業生涯,一個普遍而又明智的策略,就是使你的研究興趣與科學界認為是熱點且大有希望的想法結合起來。但有時有遠見就足夠了。當37歲的西班牙語發育生物學家Eduardo Moreno 打算為一種困惑科學家們30年的現象作解釋時,那當然無異于進行一場賭博。

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今年年初,經過Morena所謂的“三年來實施一個幾乎沒有一個西班牙贊助機構里的人看好的項目”,當他一個充滿競爭的科研經費申請中接到來自歐洲研究委員會一百萬歐元的獎金時,這場賭博勝利了,“我很高興結識一些歐洲最優秀的科學家,”Moreno說。

先工作,后娛樂

生在一個律師家庭里,Moreno在和朋友玩顯微鏡和化學試劑盒時初次嘗到科學的滋味。“這再街坊鄰里是一件很大的事,”他回憶道。后來,當他還是個化學專業的本科生,且發現了自己的激情,他參加了在馬德里自治大學開辦的發育生物學招待會。“我很著迷,我發現原來動物體是按規律構建起來的,”他說。

Moreno加入了Ginés Morata在馬德里Severo Ochoa分子生物學中心的實驗室,在他攻讀博士學位的早期,他所遇到的一個稱為細胞競爭的現象,即“其中一種細胞型啟動,其他細胞型就無法形成身體的一部分,”Moreno形容道。從Moreno和他的同事報告這一觀察結果已經三十年過去了,但“具體是怎樣一個過程很含糊,有些人不相信這個結果”。 Morata 建議Moreno為獲得博士學位搜集一些堅實的數據,然后再繼續這個冒險的項目,Moreno回憶道。

Moreno的第一份工作是在實驗室幫助一個博士后尋找誘變技術,以確定參與器官發育和定位的新基因,這使得他以第二作者出現在一篇發表在《科學》雜志論文,就在他開始攻讀博士學位不久。后來,他專心研究其中一個新發現的基因,即尾椎基因,并記錄了它在蒼蠅臀部形成過程的作用,結果又發表一篇論文,這一次是在《自然》雜志上,且是第一作者。這工作不僅為他贏得了博士學位,還有兩項重要獎項,來自馬德里自治大學的特別獎和西班牙生物化學與分子生物學領域的innogenetics青年科學家獎。

娛樂時間

當Moreno收集完有關尾椎基因的資料,距離5年的博士生涯結束還有一年半,“按今天的研究進度,幾年的四處游玩真是一種奢侈,”他說。對于博士學位他勝券在握,他說于是他開始研究細胞競爭“是否可以用現代遺傳學方法來研究和解釋”。

在那一年,和隨后幾年在Morata的實驗室作博士后(后來與Konrad Basler一起在瑞士的蘇黎世大學),Moreno能夠將以前細胞的競爭孤立現象與良好建立的程序性細胞死亡聯系起來,他假設正常細胞能夠發育過程中識別次優細胞,并迫使他們“大量死亡,像細胞群中的一個生態系統,”他說。他在瑞士證明了該假設,又發表了一篇作為第一作者的論文(《自然》雜志上),這使得他贏得了Severo Ochoa分子生物學中心的一個獎項,以及Charles Rodolphe Brupbacher基金會的青年研究員獎。

Moreno還發現了一個參與細胞競爭的人類癌癥基因的同源基因,他表明,該基因只要被啟動,就會把正常細胞轉變為“超級競爭者:可以使周圍細胞認為它們是壞的而且即將死亡的細胞”。

 

冒險的想法

Moreno回想起2005年在馬德里的西班牙國家癌癥研究中心(CNIO)當5年的新生輔導,啟動CNIO資金,Caja MadridMutua Madrile?a “讓我能夠做研究,并有相當大的七人組,”他說。

為了讓自己成為一個獨立的科學家,他必須想辦法獲取資助,西班牙科學部是明顯的來源。但他的資助申請被駁回;審判官聲稱他太沒有經驗而不足以承擔如此宏大的項目。然后,它再一次被否決,一次又一次。 “對我來說,它成為個人的事情,我真的想要這個項目,而我… 不斷的遞出申請,希望科學部認識到他們的錯誤,”他說。

對信心——投資——的支持,Moreno終于從一個不太可能的來源找到:歐洲研究委員會(E R C)。在其中一個歐洲歷史最具競爭力的科研經費申請中,Moreno奪得了一個ERC的開始獨立研究員經費,共1百萬歐元,來資助他未來5年的研究。“我們有720個申請者競爭18種資助;換句話說,只有2-3 %得到資助,” Susan Gasser在一封給《科學生涯》的信中寫道。她是歐洲研究委員會陪審團主席,負責作出裁決。“Eduardo Moreno通過第一次選擇,因為他那強有力的紀錄,并通過最后一輪,這歸功于他的創新性,但具有很強針對性的科研經費,和他的令人信服的報告”。

 

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"Eduardo Moreno made it through the first selection because of his strong past record and made it through the last round thanks to the innovative, yet highly relevant, nature of his grant," writes ERC jury panel chair Susan Gasser.

A common and sensible strategy for a successful career is to align your research interests with ideas the scientific community thinks are hot and promising. But sometimes a long shot really pays off. When Spanish developmental biologist Eduardo Moreno, 37, set to provide an explanation for an observation that had puzzled scientists for 30 years, he certainly was taking a gamble.
Earlier this year, after what Morena calls "3 years of carrying on a project that almost nobody within the Spanish funding agencies believed in," the gamble paid off when he received an award of 1 million from the European Research Council in a highly competitive research funding call. "I was very happy to get some validation by the best scientists of Europe," Moreno says.

Work first, play later

Born to a family of lawyers, Moreno explored an early taste for science playing with microscopes and chemistry kits with friends. "It was a big thing in the neighborhood," he recalls. Later, he attended a development biology conference at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid while he was a biochemistry undergrad and discovered his passion. "I was fascinated that there were rules to construct the body of animals," he says.
Moreno joined the lab of Ginés Morata at the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Centre in Madrid. Early in his Ph.D., he encountered a phenomenon called cell competition whereby "one of the cell types start[s] not allowing the other cell type to form part of the body," as Moreno puts it. Thirty years had passed since Morata and colleagues had reported the observation, but "it was very obscure what was going on there. Some people didn't believe [in] it." Morata advised Moreno to gather some solid data for a Ph.D. before taking on such a risky project, Moreno recalls.

Moreno's first job in the lab--helping a postdoc develop a mutagenesis technique to identify new genes involved in organ development and positioning--earned him a second-author paper in Science just a couple of years into his Ph.D. He then focused on one of those newly discovered genes, the caudal gene, and documented its role in the formation of the fly's posterior. Another paper resulted, this one in Nature, and this one with Moreno as first author. The work earned Moreno his Ph.D.--but not just yet--along with two important awards, the Extraordinary Award from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and the Innogenetics Young Scientists' Award from the Spanish Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

 

Just Trans!

Play time

When Moreno finished gathering data on the caudal gene, he still had a year and a half before the official completion of his 5-year Ph.D. "The pace that research goes today, it's almost a luxury to have a couple of years to play around," he says. His Ph.D. secure, he says he set out to see if cell competition "was a topic we could study with modern genetics methods and explain it."
During that year, and subsequent years spent as a postdoc in Morata's lab (and later with Konrad Basler at the University of Zurich, Switzerland), Moreno was able to link the previously isolated phenomenon of cell competition to the well-established process of programmed cell death. He hypothesized that normal cells were able to recognize suboptimal cells during development and force them to die, "a lot like an ecological system in a population of cells," he says. He proved the hypothesis in Switzerland and published another first-author paper (this one in Nature). The result won him a prize from the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Centre and the Young Investigator Award from the Charles Rodolphe Brupbacher Foundation.
Moreno also found a homologue of a human cancer gene involved in cell competition. He demonstrated that, when activated, this gene could transform regular cells into "supercompetitors: cells that … are able to make the surrounding cells believe that they are bad cells and … [need] to die."

A risky idea

Moreno was pulled back to Spain in 2005 by a 5-year junior-leader position at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) in Madrid. Start-up funding from CNIO, Caja Madrid, and Mutua Madrile?a "allowed me to do research and have a relatively big group of seven persons," he says.
To establish himself as an independent scientist, he had to attract grant money, and the Spanish Ministry for Science was the obvious source. But his grant application to the Spanish ministry was rejected; the judges claimed the he was too inexperienced to take on such an ambitious project. Then it was rejected again, and again, and again. "For me, it became personal. I really wanted this project, and I … kept sending it in the hope [the ministry] would realize their mistake," he says.
The vote of confidence--and investment--Moreno sought eventually came from a less likely source: the European Research Council (ERC). In one of the most competitive funding calls of European history, Moreno won an ERC Starting Independent Researcher Grant, worth 1 million, to fund his research during the next 5 years. "We had 720 applicants to our panel for 18 grants; in other words, only 2-3% got funded," writes Susan Gasser, chair of the ERC jury panel that made the award, in an e-mail to Science Careers. "Eduardo Moreno made it through the first selection because of his strong past record and made it through the last round thanks to the innovative, yet highly relevant, nature of his grant, and his compelling presentation of his ideas."

 

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