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CCES stories: Clarisse Ricci

I did my PhD in molecular biophysics, in the group of Professor Munir Skaf – linked to CCES – from 2010 to 2014. During this period, I had the opportunity not only to be guided and encouraged by this excellent professor and researcher, but also to live with other incredibly talented students who belonged to his group. Today I consider this period of my training of extreme importance for my development as a scientist. The scientific environment in Prof. Munir’s group was welcoming, lively and multidisciplinary. The lively discussions and exchanges that took place every day undoubtedly broadened my critical thinking, stimulated my creativity, and taught me many of the tools and resources that I use in my research to this day. For example, it was during this period that, encouraged by my colleagues and Prof. Munir, I became relatively fluent in programming languages and deepened my knowledge of statistical mechanics – two areas that, until then, were not my strong point given my undergraduate degree in Pharmacy.

In my PhD project, I used molecular dynamics simulations and related methods to study a complex of nuclear receptors of immense importance for the regulation of genes associated with diabetes and obesity. More specifically, I used methods based on statistical mechanics, network analysis, and graph theory to study how different parts of this complex communicate with each other through coordinated atomic fluctuations. Even today, this is a topic that is considered challenging and of great interest to the scientific community. Undoubtedly, the choice of a relevant PhD project contributed a lot to give visibility to my research, bringing, for example, the opportunity to present my work in one of the most important conferences in the field, organized by the “European Molecular Biology Organization” (EMBO), in 2013. My project also attracted the interest of talented researchers from outside Brazil, often resulting in new collaborations. One such collaboration, with Prof. Ruben Abagyan, gave me the opportunity to spend six months at the University of California, San Diego, as a visitor. Another of these collaborations, with Prof. Victor Batista (Yale University), was so productive that we ended up collaborating again during my postdoc, studying correlated motions in the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system (the subject of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry).

I consider my PhD in Prof. Munir’s group one of the most decisive stages in my career as a scientist. After this intense period of study, research, and learning, I got an offer to do a postdoctoral fellowship in one of the most renowned molecular dynamics groups in the world, led by Prof. Andy McCammon, at the University of California San Diego. Currently, I am finishing the last works of my post-doc with Prof. McCammon, and preparing myself to start a new stage of my career as senior scientist at the D. E. Shaw Research Group in New York.

Allosteric communication mechanisms in the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system elucidated by molecular dynamics and network analysis. Image by Clarisse G. Ricci and Giulia Palermo. Related article: Palermo G, Ricci CG et al. JACS (2017), 139, pp. 16028-16031. DOI: 10.1021/jacs.7b05313

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