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International Rising Talents 2018

Since 2000, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science programme has highlighted the achievements of younger women who are in the early stages of their scientific careers.
Each year, the International Rising Talents programme selects the 15 most promising women scientists among the 275 national and regional fellows of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science programme. These young women are the very future of science and recognizing their excellence will help ensure that they reach their full potential.

These scientists will be recognized during a ceremony at the close of a Scientific Conference marking the 20th anniversary of the UNESCO-L'Oréal for Women in Science programme, on 21 March 2018. It will be followed by the L'Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards ceremony on 22 March 2018.

AFRICA AND THE ARAB STATES

Dr. Areej Abuhammad

L’Oréal-UNESCO Regional Fellowship Levant & Egypt
School of Pharmacy, University of Jordan
Fundamental medicine

Chronic venous disease (CVD) affects 57% of men and 77% of women1. It is caused by dysfunction in the superficial or deep venous systems of the legs and can lead to varicose veins, skin changes and venous ulcers. Surgical treatment of superficial varicose veins is effective but also expensive, and can involve complications such as infection. Dr. Areej Abuhammad’s objective is to develop drug therapies against CVD. “The treatment of many diseases is based on targeting and inhibiting specific active proteins called enzymes,” she explains. “We do this by designing small chemical molecules that are structurally compatible with the enzymes. However, we first need to understand the structure of the enzyme we are trying to target.

She is working to design a selective inhibitor of the matrix metalloprotease-9 (MMP9), which is implicated in the tissue degradation that leads to varicose veins. The first step is to establish the structure of the MMP9 in complex with small chemical fragments using crystallography, a technique to determine the molecular structure of crystalline materials. She describes her introduction to protein crystallography as a defining moment in her own career. “The novel field of protein crystallography has helped to elucidate the shapes and structures of important proteins. Prior to the advancement of this field, very little was known about the physical structure of such small components of the cell.” Dr. Abuhammad started the first protein crystallography laboratory for drug discovery in Jordan. Her aim is to establish novel therapies for CVD and other noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, obesity, as well as infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, avian influenza and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

1 - Onida, S., and Davies, A. H. (2016), Phlebology 31, 74-79.

 

 

Danielle Twilley

L’Oréal-UNESCO National Fellowship South Africa
Plant Science Complex Cell Culture Laboratory, University of Pretoria
Biological Sciences, medicinal plant sciences

Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in South Africa. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer with approximately 86% of melanoma cases attributed to sun exposure.1Melanoma, explains Danielle Twilley, spreads by giving off signals that stimulate the growth of new blood vessels, called “angiogenesis”, feeding the cancer with oxygen, nutrients and a pathway to various parts of the body.” Angiogenesis is becoming an attractive target for cancer therapies, however, according to the NCI there are currently no angiogenesis inhibitors available for the treatment of melanoma.2 Danielle Twilley is seeking to find out whether a compound isolated from a South African plant, which she found in previous research to have significant cytotoxicity (the quality of being toxic to cells) towards melanoma cells, is able to inhibit both angiogenesis and tumour growth.

To minimize damage to healthy cells while delivering powerful doses to the tumour environment, she is developing the antiangiogenic agent into gold nanoparticles to target the delivery to the tumour and its vascular network. Mrs. Twilley explores indigenous knowledge of plant-based medicines for application in skin cancer, finding one traditionally used plant with high antioxidant content that boosts the SPF of a sunscreen. She is highly engaged in product development, undertaking patenting processes that assure benefits to indigenous communities, planning clinical trials and dealing with manufacturers.

1 - Parkin DM, Mesher D, and Sasieni P. 2011. Cancers attributed to solar (ultraviolet) radiation exposure in the UK in 2010. British Journal of Cancer 105, S66-S69.
2 - NCI. 2011. Online. Angiogenesis inhibitors. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/immunoth... angiogenesis-inhibitors-fact-sheet (29/07/2017).

 

 

Dr. Hanifa Taher Al Blooshi

L’Oréal-UNESCO National Fellowship United Arab Emirates
Department of Chemical Engineering, Khalifa University
Chemical Engineering

Spills are a regular occurrence in oil exploration and transport, and pose environmental threats. More than 45 significant spills have been reported since 2010; the four that occurred in 2016 released some 6,000 tons of oil into the oceans.1 Chemical dispersants are used to accelerate oil dispersion and biodegradation in water, and have been found to clean up to 90% of the spill, however, there are concerns about the toxicity of these agents. Work is underway to find environmentally benign and biodegradable-based dispersants. Ionic liquids, also known as designer agents, made from waste may serve this purpose, while making good use of waste products.

Dr. Taher Al Blooshi is developing a new oil dispersant compound from sustainable materials, notably waste, which is available in abundance in the United Arab Emirates. She will formulate, produce and test different products against currently used agents with different types of oil and in different water conditions. The findings of this study could provide a new formulation with the potential to replace traditional dispersants used in oil spill remediation. The positive outputs would benefit both the environmental and marine sectors. Dr. Al Blooshi is pursuing this research alongside her research into automotive grade biodiesel produced from oils extracted from oil-rich compounds. “Both biodiesel production and ecologically sound technologies are hot research topics in chemical engineering generally, and in the United Arab Emirates in particular,” she says. Her research will provide sustainable solutions for cleaning up oil spills and help to protect biodiversity.

1 - Oil tanker spill statistics 2016. 2017, The International Tankers Owners Pollution Federation Limited London.

 

 

Dr. Ibtissem Guefrachi

L’Oréal-UNESCO National Fellowship Tunisia
Biodiversity and Valorization of Bioresources in Arid Zones, Faculty of Sciences of Gabes in collaboration with the Institute of Integrative Biology of the Cell
Microbiology

Multi-drug resistant bacteria risk undoing the tremendous progress antibiotics have brought to the fight against infections. An international search for new antimicrobial agents is underway and some scientists are zeroing in on plants. Antimicrobial peptides, found in certain varieties of legume, appear, in laboratory tests, to have potent antibacterial activity. Nodules on the roots of legume plants are symbiotic organs that house within their cells thousands of nitrogen-fixing rhizobium bacteria, called “bacteroids”. Cohabitation with bacteria has led these plants to evolve adaptations that prevent cells from succumbing to bacteria and bacteria from succumbing to the cell’s immune response.

Dr. Ibtissem Guefrachi found that some species of legume, such as alfalfa, Arachis and Aeschynomenes (tropical plants), produce nodule specific cysteine-rich peptides (NCR) that house the bacteroids, and has revealed mechanisms that make bacteria sensitive or resistant to them. She is now investigating the potential activity of chemically synthesized NCR-like peptides against fungal and bacterial pathogens that are common in humans, such as Candida albicans, which causes yeast infections or thrush, and Chlamydia trachomatis, a common sexually transmitted infection. She also sees potential applications in the food processing industry and agriculture. Dr. Guefrachi is motivated by both scientific curiosity about the symbiotic development of plants and bacteria, as well as a desire to help solve current problems. “I hope this research will lead to new solutions in health care and agronomy.” The mechanisms of symbiotic nitrogen fixation seen in legumes may also enable the development of ways to improve nitrogen fixation in non-legume crops, thereby reducing the need for nitrogen fertilizers that contribute to climate change and surface water pollution.

 

 

ASIA-PACIFIC

Dr. Weang Kee Ho

L’Oréal-UNESCO National Fellowship Malaysia
Department of Applied Mathematics, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus /Cancer Research Malaysia
Heath sciences, epidemiological statistician

In Asia, the incidence of breast cancer is expected to increase by up to 50% between 2012 and 2025. Women are often diagnosed with advanced disease, and the five-year survival in some Asian countries is just 49%, compared to 89% in Western countries.1 A major challenge in the coming years is to increase mammography screening and early detection in underprivileged communities. Dr. Weang Kee Ho is developing a tool that can be used to identify the women at greatest risk and focus screening programmes on this population. There is a pressing need for a risk calculator based on Asian genetic analysis, as existing risk assessments were designed from studies in European people. Dr. Ho is working with combined genetic data sets from a number of major breast cancer studies conducted in Asian countries to identify candidate common genetic markers that are useful for Asian breast cancer risk prediction.

She is setting the bar high: “Risk prediction models that include only common genetic mutations, but do not take into account rare mutations and other known breast cancer risk factors, would not be comprehensive,” she emphasizes. However, she believes that with mammoth collaborative efforts with other experts in the team, this ambitious goal is achievable. An epidemiological statistician, Dr. Ho’s first love was mathematics. “It was during my doctoral studies,” she recounts, “that I realized that the mathematical skills I had gained could be a powerful tool to answer many important scientific questions.” She has been working on the epidemiology and genetics of stroke, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and is continuing to participate in international collaborations on her most recent work on breast cancer.

 

 

Dr. Hiep Nguyen

L’Oréal-UNESCO National Fellowship Viet Nam
Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Orientation, Biomedical Engineering Department, International University of Vietnam National Universities - Ho Chi Minh City
Medical engineering

Better access to health care for people living in remote and rural areas would help to improve quality of life, potentially prevent some degree of migration to cities, and avoid much disruptive travel into cities to treat injuries. “My current work,” Dr. Hiep Nguyen tells us, “focuses on biomaterials such as bio-glue, bio-tape and needleless suturing for wound repair that can be used directly by patients at home.” Her most recent project involves the development of a smart gel that is mainly formed by cross-linking hyaluronic acid (which contributes significantly to cell proliferation and migration) and chitosan (useful in tissue regeneration). It can carry other ingredients such as silver and curcumin nanoparticles for different specific applications. Her team is currently testing the gel to maximize safety and performance. The ultimate goal is a product that can be applied promptly on different types of wounds, helps eliminate bacteria and promotes rapid tissue regeneration. When applied, the gel will form a membrane to stop bleeding, absorb liquid from the wound and prevent infection from microorganisms.

My research goal,” she says, “is to study and bring new technologies from developed countries back to Vietnam, while also launching biomaterials and medicines originating in Vietnam on world markets.” She has just launched a start-up company to develop commercially viable biomaterials and is committed to developing research capacities in her country. Within the Biomedical Engineering Department, along with the Chair and colleagues, she strengthened the orientation in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine (TERM) by designing new courses, teaching, mentoring, building laboratories and helping to organize international conferences. The success of the TERM orientation contributed to the reputation of the Biomedical Engineering programme, which was ranked first in Vietnam and second among all programmes in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) network of leading universities.

 

 

Dr. Yukiko Ogawa

L’Oréal-UNESCO National Fellowship Japan
Lightweight Metallic Materials Group, Research Center for Structural Materials, National Institute for Materials Science
Material engineering

Lightweight materials are increasingly in demand to improve fuel efficiency in vehicles, make electronic devices more portable and open up new possibilities for medical devices. Magnesium alloys are an appealing material precisely due to their light weight, however their use has been limited as they are difficult to shape into particular forms. Dr. Yukiko Ogawa succeeded in controlling the microstructure and mechanical properties of magnesium by heat treatment, which had previously been considered impossible. She further experimented with adding another element, scandium, to the alloy to arrive at an optimal combination of strength and ductility (the extent to which it can be deformed without breaking). In the process, she discovered that the material exhibited shape memory — it can be bent and deformed but reverts back to its original shape when exposed to heat or electricity.

Her research group is now investigating other properties that the alloy may have: biodegradable and well accepted in the human body, promising to overcome some of the difficulties currently seen with implantable devices such as stents. As a child, Dr. Ogawa wanted to become a scientist so she could develop novel things to help people. “Material science is the foundation of our modern society,” she says. “Improvements in the properties of materials and the development of new materials enables radical innovation.” Her research team is now working to adjust the composition of the alloy and the process employed to induce shape-memory behaviour, in order to enable affordable and scalable production. Her experiments also open new directions for the study of other lightweight alloys for use in more environmentally friendly transportation systems.

 

 

 

EUROPE

Dr. Radha Boya

L’Oréal-UNESCO National Fellowship United Kingdom
Condensed Matter Physics Group, University of Manchester
Physics

Nanostructures are ever present in nature, assuring the passage of substances to where they are needed and filtering out impurities. “Sub-nanometric channels are crucial for the essential functions of life that rely on transport of small ions across cellular membranes,” highlights Dr. Radha Boya who trained in physics in India and is currently conducting research in the UK. “It is only over the past two decades that we have started discovering the importance of the nanodimensions and the rich science hidden behind them.” Replicating these natural structures has potential uses in areas as diverse as water filtration, bioanalytics and drug delivery. Dr. Boya has found a way to make channels, or pipes, as she calls them, that are 10,000 times thinner than a human hair. Using graphene enabled her to overcome limitations caused by the roughness of other molecules.

Her pipes are made by the imprint in the graphene, which can either create a cavity useful for confining a substance, or a tunnel for transporting matter. These can be employed to sieve molecules and ions by size. The technique of making pipes by nanolithography developed by Dr. Boya is reproducible and flexible, providing an important tool for further development of artificial nanochannels with specific properties suited to different requirements. “I dream that my work could lead to better understanding of the natural protein water channels found in cellular membranes,” she says. This work provides the building blocks to new ways of desalinating and filtering water, and new techniques for fuel-gas separation from refineries.

 

 

Dr. Agnieszka Gajewicz

L’Oréal-UNESCO National Fellowship Poland
Faculty of Chemistry, University of Gdansk
Chemistry

Nanomaterials are rapidly changing the landscape of industrial and consumer products, from memory storage in our computers to solar cells to generate electricity and drug delivery systems. However, there are still major gaps in our knowledge on how these tiny particles affect the environment and human health. A proactive approach is needed, given lessons learned from the serious health risks posed by chemicals once considered harmless, such as the impact of asbestos (a mineral often used in insulation) on the lungs, or the insecticide DDT on birthweight. As a specialist in chemical informatics and marathon runner, Dr. Agnieszka Gajewicz is intent on anticipating hazards before they are released into our environment and our bodies.

With a great number of new nanoparticles introduced into commercial use every day, it is unrealistic to expect that each one will be subject to comprehensive risk assessment. Dr. Gajewicz is therefore developing efficient computational methods to establish the properties and toxicity of nanomaterials and accelerate pre-clinical assessment. For regulators, these methods provide a means of evaluating safety at early stages of new nanomaterial development, taking the whole product life cycle into account. “Compared with traditional laboratory work,” she explains, “computational methods enable the development of products that are safe by design, sifting through thousands of candidate chemicals.” Dr. Gajewicz’s work has caught the attention of regulators in Europe looking for ways to ensure effective hazard assessment of manufactured nanomaterials. Dr. Gajewicz sees many commonalities between her scientific passion for cheminformatics and her passion for running: “Running a marathon takes a lot of planning and organization, determination, perseverance and discipline — much like a career in science.”

 

 

Dr. Anna Kudryavtseva

L’Oréal-UNESCO National Fellowship Russian Federation
Laboratory of Postgenomic Studies, Engelhardt Institute of Molecular Biology, Russian Academy of Sciences
Biological sciences

In Europe, 22% of all cancer diagnoses involve rare cancers, where treatments are less available and five-year survival rates are 47% compared to 65% for common cancers.1 Dr. Anna Kudryavtseva is attracted to scientific problems where knowledge is sparse, and was inspired to shift from surgical aspirations to biology following a lecture on single-cell organisms. “The most interesting part is doing something completely new, working on something that has never been properly researched before,” she says. In rare cancers called “paragangliomas”, especially the cancers of the head and neck on which she is working, she has striven to find a goal to reflect her aspirations. In these rare tumours, driver mutations that would permit targeted therapies are still largely unknown. While most are slow-growing and benign, for between 10% and 15% of patients, tumours become malignant and can metastasize.2 They are particularly dangerous as they occur very close to vital structures such as the carotid artery, and respond poorly to chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

These cancers have another distinction, in that the disruption of cells’ ability to extract and use energy is a primary cause of malignancy, while in most cancers it is a secondary phenomenon. It therefore provides an ideal focus for Dr. Kudryavtseva, whose prior work has examined energy metabolism in the progression of tumours. She is conducting genetic and epigenetic analysis of tumour samples, along with blood and lymph node samples, in order to identify differences between the three most common forms of head and neck paragangliomas. These genetic alterations will help to define prognostic markers for disease that will become malignant, so that treatment can be initiated and new drugs developed. An important component of the research lies in correlating genetic alterations with clinical characteristics to take into account the interaction between genetic characteristics and external and internal factors.

1 - Gemma Gatta, Jan Maarten van der Zwan, Paolo G. Casali, Sabine Siesling, Angelo Paolo Dei Tos, Ian Kunkler, Renée Otter, Lisa Licitra, Sandra Mallone, Andrea Tavilla, Annalisa Trama, Riccardo Capocaccia, Rare cancers are not so rare: The rare cancer burden in Europe, European Journal of Cancer, 2011; 47(17):2493-2511.
2 - Zhikrivetskaya S.O., Snezhkina A.V., Zaretsky A.R., Alekseev B.Y., Pokrovsky A.V., Golovyuk A.V., Melnikova N.V., Stepanov O.A., Kalinin D.V., Moskalev A.A., Krasnov G.S., Dmitriev A.A., Kudryavtseva A.V., Molecular markers of paragangliomas and Pheochromocytomas. Oncotarget, 2017;8(15):25756-25782.

 

 

Associate Prof. Duygu Sag

L’Oréal-UNESCO National Fellowship Turkey
Izmir Biomedicine and Genome Center, Dokuz Eylul University
Biological sciences, immunology

While our immune system defends us against many diseases, it is less effective against cancer. Recent breakthroughs have found ways to increase the immune system’s ability to find and eliminate cancer cells, however, one critical immune cell type within the tumour environment, known as “macrophages”, has not yet been targeted successfully for immunotherapy. Macrophages can be either anti-inflammatory and promote tumour cell proliferation, or pro-inflammatory and fight the tumour. The tumour environment is usually dominated by tumour-promoting macrophages.

The mechanisms that govern the switch between these two types of macrophage are poorly understood. “We have recently made the exciting discovery,” says Prof. Duygu Sag, “that macrophages that lack the cholesterol transporter ABCG1 become potent tumour-fighting macrophages and inhibit the progression of bladder cancer in preclinical studies.” Her team is now working to discover the molecular mechanisms that trigger this switch from tumour-promoting to tumour-fighting macrophages. “This may lead to the development of novel immunotherapeutic approaches for the treatment of cancer,” she suggests. Prof. Sag’s commitment to science began in high school: “While other girls had posters of celebrities on their walls,” she says, “I had photos of famous biologists and scientific posters hanging all over my room.” She is hopeful that science can help overcome the unprecedented problems facing the world: “Our arsenal of scientific knowledge to tackle those problems is now also unprecedented.”

 

 

Dr. Ai Ing Lim

L’Oréal-UNESCO National Fellowship France
Mucosal Immunology Section, Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, United States
Fundamental medicine

Our body has a beautiful design with a very precise system. Our immune system can create specific responses to target different pathogens to protect our body. However, today, there are more people suffering from asthma, dermatitis, food allergy and obesity, all of which link to our immune system. This suggests that we are experiencing a certain level of immune dysfunction. While the causes remain a mystery, laboratory studies have shown that a single infection can cause long-term damage to immune system balance. The babies born with microcephaly after their mothers were exposed to the Zika virus represent an alarming reminder of the long-term impact of maternal infection.

Pregnancy involves substantial changes in hormone, metabolism, microbiota and immunity. Moreover, pregnant women are more susceptible to a number of infectious diseases, including the influenza virus, listeria and toxoplasma, for example. All of this suggests that the foetal environment may be related to the immune disorders that we are facing, especially in high-income countries. Dr. Ai Ing Lim believes that maternal-foetal interaction in the uterine environment may hold the key to understanding the complexity of immune disorders. She is exploring how maternal exposure to infections during pregnancy impacts on the baby’s immune system. Her research involves laboratory studies on the impact of infections that commonly occur during pregnancy, such as the influenza virus, on immune system development and the baby’s susceptibility to inflammatory disease. She is building on previous discoveries on a new type of immune cell known as innate lymphoid cells, which play a crucial role in early immune responses to fight against various diseases. “Ultimately,” she says, “I hope that understanding how our immune systems work, especially in the maternal-foetal context, will lead us to resolve many infectious and inflammatory diseases.”

 

 

LATIN AMERICA

Dr. Selene Lizbeth Fernandez Valverde

L’Oréal-UNESCO National Fellowship Mexico
Advanced Genomics Unit, National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity (UGA-LANGEBIO), Cinvestav
Biological sciences and genomics

Proteins are considered to be the fundamental building blocks of life and are receiving much scientific attention. Yet they are contained in less than 3% of our DNA. The vast number of RNAs, polymeric molecules essential in various biological roles such as coding, decoding, regulation, and expression of genes, that do not make proteins (known as “long non-coding RNAs” or lncRNAs) remain the relatively unexplored “dark matter” of the genome. Dr. Fernandez Valverde is intent on understanding the function and evolution of the thousands of lncRNAs that are present in most life forms, some of which are known to control gene expression and have been linked to human diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

This is one of the most exciting times to be involved in biological research” she enthuses. Technological advances enable scientists to obtain a full sequencing of DNA and RNA of an organism and “this wealth of information is allowing us to use evolutionary theory to identify which molecules are important in different organisms and contexts.” Dr. Fernandez Valverde is developing a framework that will permit studies of individual IncRNAs to identify structural motifs, groups of IncRNAs with shared characteristics, and associate these with functions. She uses computational methods to identify RNA sequences that are under evolutionary election. “For example,” she says, “we can identify RNAs whose expression increases in particular environments such as high altitude or high sun exposure, and identify how these changes are associated with the appearance and response to disease in humans, animals and crops.” She hopes the tools developed in her laboratory will enable scientists to interpret the impacts of the environment on genetic change by rapidly assigning functions to novel, uncharacterized RNA molecules.

 

 

Dr. Rafaela Salgado Ferreira

L’Oréal-UNESCO National Fellowship Brazil
Laboratory of Molecular Modeling and Drug Design, Computational Biology Group Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte
Chemistry

Diseases that largely affect poorer countries do not always receive sufficient investment from pharmaceutical companies, leaving it to public universities to fill this important gap. Dr. Rafaela Salgado Ferreira leads the Laboratory of Molecular Modeling and Drug Design in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, with a mission to develop new drugs for neglected diseases. “We employ a strategy called rational drug design” she explains. “First, a protein which is essential to the pathogen is chosen as a target, then the structures of this protein are experimentally determined and computational techniques are used to select molecules that are most likely to work against the protein.”

Computational selection allows her team to consider millions of potential inhibitors and select only a few dozen to be experimentally evaluated in the laboratory, in order to verify their activity against the pathogen. These procedures constitute the initial steps in the drug development pipeline. Her current focus is on the parasitic disease, Chagas, which is endemic in Brazil, with as many as three million people affected. Existing treatments are not very effective and have serious side effects. Dr. Salgado Ferreira is targeting the cruzain enzyme, the pathogen responsible for the disease, and is testing a number of cruzain inhibitors identified through rational drug design. Her work on the Zika virus, which struck Brazil very hard two years ago, focuses on a protease inhibitor that prevents viral replication. “Developing drugs is highly challenging” she emphasizes. “The greatest achievement for me, which is a big dream, would be to contribute to bringing a drug to market.”

 

 

NORTH AMERICA

Dr. Anela Choy

L’Oréal-UNESCO National Fellowship United States
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego
Biological sciences, oceanography

Through the burning of fossil fuels and consumption of seafood, humans worldwide have impacted ocean ecosystems. Understanding how all of the creatures in the open ocean interact and feed on one another is the focus of Dr. Anela Choy’s research. Additionally, pinpointing how multiple human impacts influence ocean food webs is critical to ensuring their sustained and healthy existence. For example, more than ten million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year.1 When ingested by marine animals, these plastics pose physical and chemical risks that are poorly known.

In addition to disentangling food web structure and function, Dr. Anela Choy’s work contributes crucial knowledge about the ecosystem impacts of marine plastic pollution and will aid in developing strategies to manage and conserve ocean ecosystems. She discovered that giant larvaceans, which are primitive marine animals, play a vital role in transporting plastics from the surface to the depths of the ocean. She is investigating the distribution patterns of contaminants like methylmercury and plastics in marine animals from the bottom of the food chain right up to the fish consumed by humans. Dr. Choy works on stateof- the-art undersea vehicles from which she can directly observe and sample animals from deep-sea ecosystems, which represent the largest living spaces on Earth. Having just accepted a position at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, one of the premier oceanographic institutes in the world, Dr. Choy is preparing to set up her laboratory at the University of California, San Diego in Fall 2018. One of her first projects is to examine the chemical extent of plastic pollution in the deep sea: the small fish, squid and crustaceans she will study are the pillars of ocean food webs and primary food sources for commercially important fish. “I hope my work will raise awareness about the intimate links between human societies and the seemingly disconnected deep ocean environment, which we all ultimately depend on.”

1 - Jambeck et al. 2015, Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.