I was born in Sardinia, an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Growing up on an island I was always interested in the sea. My curiosity and love for the marine environment led to my PhD project in South Africa on the study of marine viral diversity in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a multi-disciplinary project involving marine biology, molecular biology and bioinformatics. To get there I started with a BSc in Applied Bio-Ecology (curriculum Marine Biology) where I did my thesis research on corals. Specifically the purpose was to understand how different species interact (such as sponges, other corals, fish…) and how the bionomical association would impact Corallium rubrum growth as well as the fishery interactions. I analysed ROV (Remotely operated underwater vehicle) images and went on fishing boats to collect samples, this was hard but also very rewarding. I was also able to see for myself the issues of fisheries and how the community interact with researchers. I learnt that we have to learn to talk to each other in comprehensive ways, without diminishing anyone work and trying to be open minded in other people views because is only through understanding the needs of the community that we can all understand the ecological problems. This experience inspired me so much that I decided to work on Cephalopod (octopus & squid) reproduction for my MSc in Marine Biology. The project consisted of analysing the correlation between maturity stages and growth, reproduction and the impact of fisheries on their life cycle. I participated in weekly boat sampling trips tagging cephalopods to enable fishermen to identify the best time of year to sustainably fish. Both species that I worked with were very susceptible to environmental changes; small changes in their geographical range will change the stock size and their life cycles. After graduation I decided that I wasn’t ready for a PhD so I started a post-graduate internship at the University of Cagliari in a public health laboratory (Molecular and clinical department) where we were researching microorganisms from water, air and food matrixes. During all these projects I developed an understanding of the impact of environmental change on the marine ecosystem. For example changes in water temperature, increases in environmental pollutants (e.g. TBT and other anti-fouling substances), how these variables with unsustainable fisheries can impact the geographic range of biota. After the end of that experience, I started a second internship at the clinical laboratory in Brotzu hospital (Cagliari, Italy); my goal was to learn new techniques to improve my laboratory skills (in the meantime I had pass the Italian examination to work as professional biologist, and I am now a qualified biologist). The internship was interrupted after only a month, because I got selected for a one-year masters on bioinformatics (2nd level vocational master) with the University of Cagliari & the CRS4. During this experience I was able to spend three months in the UK at the Marine Biological Association (Dr Declan Schroeder’s cellular and molecular group) to develop my final project on marine viruses, specifically on transcriptomic data from an algae virus. This last experience grew my passion for bioinformatics and allowed me to learn work with Next Generation Sequencing data, working with small genomes (especially from viruses). I was always interested in microorganisms from water and I have tried to incorporate them into my past research, I was especially curious on their effect in the community considering both in the human-health and economical perspective. Unfortunately I was unable to follow this path until I started the PhD with the University of Cape Town on viral diversity on surface seawater. Furthering my knowledge of viruses and how to analyse them, learning new technics, of both molecular biology and bioinformatics, has became a key point for my PhD.
This was the path that brought me from an Italian island to South Africa in order to achieve my goal of working on viruses in the marine environment.