Vanessa de Sousa Vieira

  • Vanessa de Sousa VieiraVanessa de Sousa Vieira is originally from Portugal. She joined Oxford Brookes in September 2014 and her thesis title is ‘The role of Atgolgin-84A at the endoplasmic reticulum-Golgi interface’.

    What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

    I chose Oxford Brookes for my PhD studies because of my supervisor’s well-known work in cell biology and the expertise of his group in the plant endomembrane system.

    What were you doing before?

    I was working in the Faculty of Sciences in Porto, Portugal. I finished my master’s degree and stayed in the same lab finishing work to publish. I was working in the plant endomembrane system.

    How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

    It was very easy to be part of the plant cell biology group; people were very friendly and helpful. I think Oxford Brookes is doing great research in life sciences and works are being published and recognised.

    Tell us about your research.

    How do we feed nine billion people in the near future? How can we do that without overwhelming the planet? This is the biggest challenge humankind is about to face and is one of the reasons why we need to understand the plant endomembrane system. The endomembrane system is how cells organise and coordinate all vital processes by a system of membrane-delimited compartments that have specific functions but are also in close association. 

    In plant cells the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and Golgi are central organelles of the plant endomembrane system and are the most vital sources of plant biomass as they are responsible for protein and carbohydrates production.

    • In a plant cell cytoplasm, there are numerous stacks of membrane bounded cisternae forming stacks, each of which comprises a discrete Golgi body responsible for the processing of proteins received from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and their distribution to the plasma membrane and other compartments. How this motile structure is maintained while providing vital functions for the cell is still poorly understood. The ER is physically connected to Golgi bodies and Golgi matrix components, such as golgins that have been identified and suggested to function as putative tethering factors. Golgins are proteins anchored to the Golgi membrane by the C-terminus either through transmembrane domains (TMDs) or interaction with small regulatory GTPases. The golgin N-terminus contains long coiled-coil domains which consist of a number of α-helices wrapped around each other to form a structure similar to a rope being made from several strands, reaching into the cytoplasm. 
    • Atgolgin84A (former golgin candidate 1, GC1) may act as tethering factor at the ER-Golgi interface and at the ER exit sites (ERES). To test this hypothesis, fluorescent fusions to Atgolgin-84A and a truncation lacking the coiled-coil domains (Atgolgin-84A1-557) were transiently expressed in Nicotiana tabacum and Arabidopsis thaliana and imaged by confocal microscopy with an Airyscan detector. This is cutting-edge imaging technology and is the perfect combination of standard confocal with super-resolution with the Airyscan detector. The super-resolution allows imaging of details and substructures in the Golgi body cisternae.
    • Atgolgin-84AD1-557. This hypothesis was also tested using a α-amylase assay and the secretion index was measured when Atgolgin-84A and mutant are co-expressed with cargo. 

    What do you enjoy about being a research student?

    I am particularly interested in the plant endomembrane system. It is fascinating for me how cells organise and coordinate all vital processes that make them so adaptive and resilient. As a research student I can study all these processes, I have the freedom to manage my project, plan my experiments and solve problems when experiments do not work as expected. Also having the support of my supervisors and advice when I need it as well as good brainstorming discussions. Sometimes it is very demanding because when we work with living systems, the experiments do not always work or the results may be difficult to analyse. I find exercise and sports helps to overcome these stressful moments and the next day I go back to the lab for a fresh start.

    What are your future plans?

    My future plans are to finish my PhD studies and publish my work. I would like to have the opportunity to stay at Oxford Brookes for longer, maybe a postdoc to be able to finish some of the work including work we developed in collaboration with the University of Leeds.