Dr. Mariana Byndloss is Assistant Professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Mariana earned her DVM, MSc in veterinary pathology, and PhD in veterinary pathology from the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) in Brazil. She was awarded the Brazilian National Prize for best PhD thesis in Veterinary Medicine. Afterwards, Mariana conducted postdoctoral research at the University of California, Davis before joining the faculty at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. In our interview, Mariana will tell us more about her life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:16)
Mariana loves animals, and she spends a lot of her free time with her dog and new puppy. They are both German Shorthair Pointers, and she trains them to hunt and to participate in American Kennel Club competitions. Mariana also enjoys quality time with her husband and son, listening to live music, and exploring all the great restaurants in Nashville.
The Scientific Side (4:04)
Research in Mariana’s lab investigates how the bacteria that live inside our gut can affect our health. She is interested in how things like diet, antibiotics, or infection may change how our body behaves. This, in turn, can change how the bacteria in our gut behave and lead to disease.
A Dose of Motivation (5:11)
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
What Got You Hooked on Science? (8:58)
Mariana was exposed to science early, and she had the opportunity to take classes in physics, chemistry, and biology in high school. She had an excellent physics teacher, and her interest in biology was sparked when she began learning more about evolution and genetics. Though Mariana knew she was interested in biology, she didn’t know what career she wanted to pursue. At the time, Mariana’s sister was in veterinary school, and she encouraged Mariana to follow the same path because it would combine Mariana’s love of biology with a useful clinical degree. Mariana got involved in research as an undergraduate student, and she had a phenomenal experience. Her advisor was an excellent veterinary pathologist, mentor, and researcher, and she continued working with him for her master’s and PhD degrees.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (19:16)
In graduate school, Mariana studied a bacterial pathogen that required her to work in a biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) laboratory. These labs must be closed periodically for standard decontamination procedures, cleaning, and inspection by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Though these are predictable events, they can be really disruptive to research. The bacteria Mariana was working with was slow-growing, and it was frustrating not to be able to work in the lab for 3-4 months when she needed to finish her experiments to complete her degree. To cope with the situation, Mariana and her colleagues started new projects using other microbes to have something to work on while their main lab was closed.
A Shining Success! (21:46)
Having established her lab relatively recently, one of the most exciting successes for Mariana has been seeing her early trainees learn and grow as scientists. To study gut microbes in animal models, Mariana’s lab collects fecal samples and analyzes the microbes from these samples. The first PhD student to join Mariana’s lab had not done much work previously with animal models, and Mariana will never forget when the student rushed to her office to celebrate the first time she successfully collected a fecal sample from a mouse. Since this early victory, the student has gone on to publish a great review paper and win an award for best poster at a local conference. It has been so rewarding to see her student succeeding in science. To celebrate successes, Mariana’s lab gets together for lab happy hours, parties, or delicious Brazilian cuisine at Mariana’s house.
Book Recommendations (24:42)
Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Oversanitized World Book by Brett Finlay and Marie-Claire Arrieta and any book by Amyr Klink
Most Treasured Travel (26:21)
A few years ago, Mariana visited Germany to attend a conference on Salmonella pathogenesis. During this trip, she was delighted to have a chance to meet many great European scientists in her field. In addition, Mariana’s husband and son accompanied her on the trip. Once the conference ended, they were able to do some sightseeing and visit the city of Prague in the Czech Republic. Mariana enjoyed seeing firsthand the amazing historic sites and architecture in Berlin and Prague.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (29:31)
One thing Mariana loves to do with colleagues is get together over a cup of coffee to talk about life. In a previous lab, Mariana and her fellow lab members rented a boat and spent the day hanging out at a nearby lake, swimming, and barbecuing. On another occasion, she and her colleagues rented a house in the mountains for a lab ski trip. These outings were excellent opportunities to get to know the people she worked with, talk about science, and share their interests outside science as well. In her current lab, Mariana and her trainees often go out for lab lunches or meet up for happy hour after a long day. They also look forward to an annual lab hike and picnic each spring.
Advice For Us All (33:30)
A day spent in the library can save you months in the lab. Taking the time to read and really understand the literature gives you a sense of what experiments have been done already, as well as helps you understand your results and why things may not have turned out as you expected. Keep working, and try not to give up in the face of failure. In science, there is a lot of failure and disappointment. When you start to see failure as an opportunity to grow, it helps you become a better scientist.
We are just starting to understand how the gut microbiota, the largest microbial community inhabiting our body, may contribute to health and disease. Mariana’s research proposes to establish novel molecular mechanisms that link a functional imbalance in the gut microbiota (aka: dysbiosis) with the pathogenesis of human disease. Her expertise comes from a variety of fields such as molecular biology, microbiology, immunology, pathology, and preclinical mouse models of human disease. Mariana is particularly interested in how inflammation-mediated changes in gut epithelial metabolism may lead to gut dysbiosis and increased risk of non-communicable diseases (e.g.: obesity, colorectal cancer, and cardiovascular disease) and of infectious gastroenteritis caused by the bacterial pathogen Salmonella enterica. When not in the lab, Mariana loves to spend time trying new restaurants in Nashville or exploring the outdoors with her family and her German Shorthaired Pointers Kweli and Serena. As a true Brazilian, she will never say no to watching a good soccer game while enjoying some Brazilian barbecue or feijoada.