Today, we are interviewing Javier Palatnik, one of the best researchers in Argentina. He is a plant developmental biologist, made his degree and PhD in Rosario, Argentina, with Nestor Carrillo and continue his career in Detlef Weigel’s lab as Postdoc. There, he became one of the pioneers of RNA biology and now he came back to Rosario as Principal Researcher 15 years ago.

We are talking with him on occasion he is recipient of the Humboldt Research Award. This award, given by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation is conferred in recognition of an entire academic record. 

Facundo Romani: Thanks Javier for giving this interview for the Plantae Community. Can you tell us about what topics are you researching right now for the readers that did not know you yet?

Javier Palatnik: My research focuses on the biogenesis and mechanisms of action of small RNAs and how they integrate with the developmental program of the plant. 

FR: You were nominated by Dr Jan Lohmann (Heidelberg, Germany). How was the interaction, have you worked with him previously? tell us something about the background of the award.

JP: I first met Jan in San Diego where we both were postdocs in Detlef Weigel’s lab at the Salk Institute. When the lab moved to the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tuebingen we also both moved to Germany, so we do have some history of working in the same environment.

Even though in our own labs we have developed quite different research questions, Jan Lohman focuses mainly on the shoot meristem and my lab on the biology of small RNAs, we always kept in touch, developmental biology being a common interest. At some point we thought it might be exciting to combine our areas of expertise to small RNAs mechanisms and functions in the context of the biology of plant stem cells and work together on a common project. One of the few programs that would allow this interaction between Argentina and Germany was the Alexander von Humboldt Research Prize, so Jan was so kind to nominate me.

FR: The award also includes international cooperation and visits to Germany. What are your plans there? if you can tell us something about the research project, of course.

JP: The proposed research plan takes advantage of our joined expertise on stem cells and small RNAs.  We are thinking in the line of genome-wide experiments and cell biology at the COS in Heidelberg, exploring new research directions to study the contribution of small RNAs during the establishment and maintenance of the shoot apical meristem.

FR: You have made most of your career in Rosario, how does it feel to receive such an award working Latin America?

JP: I felt thrilled and honored when I received the news about the AvH Research Award. It will certainly be a great experience to be part of the Humboldt Network and to stay for several months at the COS in Heidelberg and to be able to visit many colleagues in Germany.

FR: The last two/four years were pretty bad for scientific research in Argentina in terms of budget. How were the last years for your lab? Do you have better expectations for the following years? 

JP: There has been a significant reduction in the size of the research grants. On top of that the usual molecular biology reagents can cost three or four times more in Argentina than in the US, and sometimes we need to wait several months to get them in the lab. However, I think that the potential remains, as Argentina counts with highly trained students and researchers. Therefore, if changes in the science budget are implemented, I am optimistic that the results can be observed fast.

FR: Sometimes, I notice that it is not so common to stablish long term international collaborations in Argentina and groups tend to be a little bit close. Do you agree that research here it is not international enough? Where do you find the causes? Funding? Culture? Distance?

JP: I think that a very low budget to do science makes everything else much more difficult, also to keep in touch with collaborators far away. The large geographical distance to the US or Europe makes things more complicated than I previously anticipated. Indirectly, these difficulties may influence the decisions of young researchers whether or not to even think about going abroad.

FR: This award is given considering your whole career. What advice would you give to Javier Palatnik from the past that could be useful for any Early Career Researcher working in a developing country?

JP: I think it is very important to do good science and train students in developing countries. It is one way to lay the foundation for development and to bring about changes for the future. It might be important to choose the research topics carefully considering the ups and downs in the support for Science. Collaborations and networking are also relevant. I am very grateful to many colleagues in different parts of the world that have been keen to collaborate with us and receive students from my lab. This has not only been important for our research, but also instrumental for training and for showing our students that they can achieve to work at the best places worldwide. 

Thanks again for your time Javier. 

You can follow his updates in the lab’s web page and Twitter account @rnabiollab

Some of his recent work: