Yolanda is a key to the immunological aspects of the PARAGONE project, based in the Co-ordinator’s institution, Moredun Research Institute just outside Edinburgh.
Yolanda’s journey to her current position includes a primary degree in the biological sciences from Oviedo, Spain, and a PhD awarded in 2006 in fish immunology and fish vaccine development with Chris Secombes in Aberdeen. She stayed here for some initial post-doc experience before moving to Edinburgh, and to working on terrestrial animals. Her first post-doc here was in the Roslin Institute, working on the development of immunological tools for livestock species, before moving to work on the PARAGONE project.
Her main role on this project is on the vital task of improving vaccine adjuvants and delivery methods, for both nematode and trematode targets, as well as generating further reagents vital for immunological studies in farm animals.
Yolanda particularly likes the opportunities for international collaboration and networking provided through the EU project – she has for example participated in immunological training workshops for young scientists in the project, has demonstrated innovative work using microcrystals as adjuvants at the University of Cordoba, and enjoyed fruitful discussions with the group at the University of Ghent.
Adjuvants are vital, though at times neglected, components of vaccines, and within PARAGONE are being targeted as potential “make or break” elements in the difficult, complex targets that are parasitic worms.
Using microcrystals as adjuvants is a potentially game-changing concept as it allows antigens to be delivered in a package, or scaffold, to each cell type important in generating an appropriate immune response. Preliminary in vitro work indicates that when used in this way, the combination stabilizes the protein components of the vaccine, while promoting a type of cell suicide (pyroptosis) associated with inflammation, and a call to arms to the immune system to combat an invading organism. While the utility of this approach has yet to be shown in vivo, the potential of this aspect of the PARAGONE project to be influential within and outside the field of vaccines against livestock parasites, is clear.
Another as aspect of PARAGONE in which Yolanda is involved is the fascinating story of how Canarian Hair breed – a sheep breed native to the Canaries, manage to be resistant to one of the major parasite targets of PARAGONE, the gut worm Teladorsagia. To date, this work has shown that Canarian Hair Breed sheep older than six months old have a much more balanced immune response (more interferon- for example) in response to the parasite than more susceptible breeds. Apart from being fascinating in and of itself, this also begs the question of how vaccines could be exploited to render other sheep more resistant.
Moving from the specifics of the project, Yolanda emphasizes the great working atmosphere of Moredun, with the potential to develop skills not only at the bench, but also in grant-writing, for example, and in linking with industry.
Inevitably, Brexit enters the discussion. Yolanda professes a love of the multiculturalism of Scotland, and the diversity of British science, and fervently hopes continued collaboration will be possible in EU research as various scenarios unfold. We finish by talking about some “Big Picture” questions. Whereas she has never felt discriminated in terms of gender, science careers, especially at the post-doc stage, can sometimes be tricky to navigate- for example, not all post-docs receive maternity leave. As for the future of food production, we muse on the sustainability of both traditional livestock farming, and aquaculture, and their relationship with environmental concerns and animal welfare. I hope we get a chance to have a longer conversation and come up with some answers on these!