From the barracks to the laboratory

Researcher Adolfo José da Mota pursued a military career in the Air Force before becoming a professor at the Federal University of Amazonas

Personal archiveAdolfo José da Mota, the son of a Brazilian Air Force corporal, grew up surrounded by military flags, uniforms, and model airplanes, so his parents were not surprised when he decided to pursue a military career. In 1996, after completing high school, he passed the test to become a private first class, which allowed him to study as a nursing assistant and technician while working at the Air Force hospital in São Paulo. “I worked as a surgical technologist and ICU technician for five years,” he recalls.

In June 2001, he took another test, this time for sergeant. Upon passing, he moved to São José dos Campos to work as a nurse at the Aerospace Technical Center (CTA), again for five years. But he was not happy with his career prospects, and decided to study a degree. He chose biology, the most affordable course at the University of Paraíba Valley (UNIVAP).

Mota’s career path began to change when he applied for an undergraduate research internship at the laboratory of physician Francisco Gorgônio da Nóbrega. “I left the lab feeling frustrated,” he says of his first conversation with the professor. “I didn’t understand anything he said.” Despite the difficulties, he was accepted and began his research. By day, he divided his time between his degree and his scientific research, while at night, he was on duty at the CTA.

Having enjoyed the dynamics of the laboratory environment, Mota took advantage of the university’s graduate incentivization policy to invest further in his academic training. While still an undergraduate, he started studying for a master’s degree, ultimately defending his dissertation on the genetics of microorganisms just one year after he graduated. When splitting his time between the CTA and academia finally became too much, he did not hesitate: “At the end of 2006 I asked to leave the CTA and started my PhD at the University of São Paulo’s Institute of Biosciences.”

While studying genetics, Mota one day had the idea of ​​analyzing his own DNA. He discovered that both he and his daughters carry a genetic mutation responsible for a subtype of diabetes. The discovery aroused his interest in human genetics, and soon after he accepted an invitation to take a professor position at the Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM) in Manaus.

After six years at the institution, the 40-year-old ex-serviceman is now helping to create a new laboratory capable of producing tests that can diagnose molecular diseases at affordable prices. The R$1 million project has received funding from the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations, and Communications (MCTIC) and the Amazonas State Research Foundation (FAPEAM).