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In the waters of the world

Portuguese biologist who studied and worked in four countries is now a professor at UFSCar

Carreiras_DSCN7146Personal archivePortuguese biologist Hugo Sarmento, 37, from the city of Porto, has already lived in four countries. A graduate of Do Minho University in Portugal, Sarmento earned his doctorate at the University of Namur in Belgium, where he also spent six years in charge of research projects. During that time, he had a few stints in African countries where he studied plankton in large lakes such as Kivu and Tanganyika. “With this work, I spent more than three months a year in countries like Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Sarmento says. Before his doctorate, he lived in Angers, France, for nine months as an intern at an environmental consulting firm on a grant from the European Union. After that he had a five-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Institute of Marine Science in Barcelona, Spain. During that time he visited other countries, including Brazil, while on the Tara Oceans and Malaspina Expeditions to collect and research plankton in every ocean on earth from 2009 to 2012.

Sarmento is married to a Brazilian who works in foreign trade. He met her 15 years ago in France and they decided to settle in Brazil, where he applied for a grant from the Science Without Borders program of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI), under the grant mechanism that seeks to attract researchers to Brazil. He became a visiting professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN). In late 2013 he took a public competitive exam for a position as professor at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar). “I had never taken a competitive exam and had never been to São Carlos; I only heard colleagues recommend the university, the city and FAPESP,” Sarmento says. In early 2014, he was already a professor in the UFSCar Hydrobiology Department when a project in the Foundation’s Young Investigators in Emerging Institutions was approved for him to study biodiversity and the genetics of microalgae and plankton.

“We wanted to explore this diversity of microorganisms in aquatic ecosystems and identify, for example, the ones that were toxic and could be pathogenic, and map the distribution of genes with potential future applications in biotechnology. “In the Tara Oceans Expedition we found more than 35,000 species of bacterioplankton in the ocean and we described over 40 million genes.” He collaborated with Professor Armando Vieira, also of UFSCar, on a project to expand and maintain one of the world’s largest collections of microalgae in the university. “I found an excellent environment as well as infrastructure for research at UFSCar, and I believe I will be able to contribute to the advancement of science in my field.”

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