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Experimenting with curiosity

Biologist starts a company to share her scientific knowledge in the studies of life and living organisms

Léo Ramos ChavesSão Paulo biologist Luciana Vasques was close to completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute of Biosciences of the University of São Paulo (IB-USP) when she was invited to put on a series of molecular biology workshops for students at a private college in São Paulo. The experience awakened a desire to help improve the teaching of biology in schools by sharing the knowledge she had acquired over two-and-a-half decades of scientific research. In 2016, at the age of 44, she started her own business. While continuing her work in the lab, she founded Molecolare.

Vasques started her biology degree at IB-USP in 1991, aged 18. The following year, under the supervision of geneticist Mayana Zatz, she began her undergraduate research project on the genes responsible for muscular dystrophy, a disorder characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. She completed a master’s and a PhD at the same institution, studying the mechanism that causes inactivation of the X chromosome in female human cells.

In 2003, she began her first postdoctoral fellowship at the Heart Institute (INCOR) of the USP School of Medicine (FM-USP). She then worked as a visiting researcher at the Department of Biochemistry of the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP), where she stayed until returning to IB-USP in 2011 to start a new postdoctoral fellowship.

It was at this time that she was first invited to talk to high school students about molecular biology. “I was working in the laboratory of geneticist Lygia da Veiga Pereira when she was planning the project, and she invited me to take part,” Vasques recalls. The idea was for the activities to promote an interest among young people in current issues and techniques, such as DNA editing. “That is when I decided to start a company dedicated to this type of activity,” she explains.

She planned and structured the first workshops at home and presented her proposal to a number of schools in São Paulo. Interest grew. “I introduce students to the latest advances in molecular biology and discuss the ethical issues of gene manipulation.” The objective is for the workshops to share scientific knowledge in an attractive way, allowing students to understand the techniques applied in laboratory research through real experiments.

Refresher courses for high-school teachers came soon after. Today, Molecolare also offers consulting services for master’s and PhD students writing experimental designs for their research. In a recent case, Vasques helped a PhD researcher assess whether the controls she had used in a molecular biology project were correct and helped structure the data collected. “When experiments are well planned and implemented, there is less chance that they will have to be repeated.” Vasques is now dedicated almost exclusively to her company, except for one PhD student she still supervises at IB-USP.