Tico who works with the Nobel Prize for medicine: who is Felipe Mora?

From a very early age, Felipe Mora Bermudez was drawn to human evolution. Not least, he had two big influences in his life: an anthropologist mother and a geologist father, so for him this field was just the point of convergence in what his parents were doing.

When it came time to choose a career, he chose biology. It wasn’t hard for him to decide. This path later took him to Germany, where he first studied molecular biology and then specialized in the development of brain cells.

The goal is to get to know the human brain well, and one step in achieving this is to compare it to that of other similar species, as this helps to give another perspective and gain more information.

His work led him to examine the brains of Neanderthals and Denisovans, considered our closest relatives. homo sapiens, and that they have coexisted on the planet for thousands of years.

So Mora arrives at the Max Planck Institute, where she meets Swaten Pjabo, the father of paleogenomics, which is the study of prehistoric genes. Since then they have been involved, each in their specialty, in different jobs.

However, this one from tico is not just a partner, because this October 3, Pääbo was announced as winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology.

From his home in Dresden, Germany, Mora spoke with The nation. It was almost 9pm for him, he drank a cup with Costa Rican motifs and sat down in front of the computer. He admitted that he had no coffee in it, he loves Costa Rican coffee and it is never missing from his pantry, he considers it a valuable asset that knows how to indulge, but he admitted that drinking coffee at night makes it difficult for him to sleep.

This is an excerpt from the conversation with this 46-year-old Tico, who is also passionate about reading, talking and learning.

– I remember that from a young age I was fascinated by animals, plants, cells, human evolution, this in common with my anthropologist mother and my geologist father.

“After I got my bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to go to Germany to do a master’s degree in Heidelberg and from there a PhD at the European Laboratory of Molecular Biology. There I studied the dynamics and condensation of chromosomes.

“Later I went to Dresden to study brain development, specifically the cell division of the stem cells of the neocortex (an area of ​​the cerebral cortex associated with the capacity that distinguishes humans from other mammals).

“It brought me closer to the Neanderthals.”

– This was already in Dresden, at the Max Planck Institute (where they both work). Svante’s team was in Leipzig (a city 60 minutes by train from Dresden). We had meetings every few months to exchange ideas and analyze the results.

“At a point when Svante’s team had the complete and comprehensive sequence of the Neanderthal genome, the opportunity arose to collaborate and do joint projects to see if the genomic differences they found were also of some significance.” physiological.

“That is, not only were they differences in DNA bases that they had already seen, but they were also differences that had some effect on the cell biology or physiology of the brain and led to differences between us and our ‘cousins.'” Neanderthals and Denisovans “.

Svante is a highly intelligent, brilliant man with an impressive lifetime record who has published widely. He has been recognized with several awards, and now with the Nobel.

“He is a very focused person. When it comes to work, he is very focused, very focused and very good at understanding things even if they are outside his expertise.

“When he started the project, for example, he didn’t have a lot of knowledge about cell division, but he quickly caught up.

“And outside of work he’s a good guy. He likes to talk nicely, laugh, joke. Truth is a nice person to talk to and work with.

– The basis was the spectacular work Svante and his team did to sequence the genomes (gene by gene analysis) of archaic humans. A spectacular breakthrough that is hard to believe is possible. This is DNA that has been obtained from fossils.

“With these genomes, it was easy to compare them to the genome of us modern humans and see if there were any differences.”

– It was seen, for example, that there are 100 differences in the proteins, that in the genome.

“The idea was to think, ‘We know there are these differences in the genome, but we don’t know what the physiological result is, if there are changes in the cells or in the functioning of the organism, if any.’

“Since there are many, we share this work. They suggested that I deal with six differences that were known to have something to do with brain development because they are very active proteins in the brain and have something to do with cell division.

– I started to analyze these proteins in the context of stem cells, in the brain. By doing experiments with my work team, we were able to see that there were indeed differences, for example, that fewer errors were made in cell division of Homo sapiens than Neanderthals. We’re still learning.”

– We had meetings to share experimental results, discuss, discuss what the next steps will be, see if the results make sense and what can be improved. It was a collaborative effort.

“I did most of the hands-on work in Dresden, because that’s where the technology to study living tissues and cells is, and in Leipzig more work was done on ancient DNA sequencing.

“In Dresden, it was about preparing cells, preparing tissues so that we could observe them under a microscope. These tissues had stem cells from either Neanderthals or modern humans, and you compared them and saw what happened to the brain stem cells.”

– Well, after seeing these differences in cell division with human amino acids (molecules that make up proteins) and Neanderthal amino acids, and that this led to fewer cell “errors” in modern humans vs. Neanderthals, now the idea is to see what effect it has this reduction of errors in the functioning of neuronal cells, for example cortical neurons.

“In short, it’s to see if there is an impact on these differences, and what it is, on neurons and on brain function. But let’s remember that these studies are in six of the more or less 100 differences that exist.

“There are other projects with other researchers and they are very interesting and 100 more differences are being analyzed.”

– One thing is very clear. With Neanderthals and Denisovans, we have much more similarities than differences. We are really very similar to them. The differences are few, minimal. They may be important differences, but we have a lot in common with them.

“It would be very interesting to understand why they disappeared and how we managed to survive, to understand more about what keeps us here and to see the risks to our survival and future existence.”

“Unfortunately, they are gone and we have no other way to analyze them except with fossils. It would be very interesting to meet them and learn more about them. To know what they were like 50,000 years ago, we are unfortunately left with few clues.

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