Visitor of the Week: Oscar Perez


Meet Oscar Perez, director of the Developmental Biology Laboratory 113 in the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador’s School of Biological Sciences, a graduate student in Dr. Federico Brown’s lab at the University of Sao Paulo, and the Ecuadorian representative in the Latin American Society for Development Biology Board. Oscar was on campus for two courses this year – Scientific Writing Retreat followed by Computational Genomics – but his history with CSHL started twelve years ago when he took his first CSHL course. We caught up with him to ask what keeps him coming back.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am interested in the evolutionary comparison of reproductive strategies and early development of Ecuadorian chordates. My research is currently focused in the plasticity of oocyte organization and how this can modify the embryological events. I apply the comparative method in order to find molecular variations in oogenesis and embryogenesis of the Ecuadorian megadiverse fauna.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Since an early age, I was always interested in nature and I was fortunate to have a childhood surrounded by forests and open fields. I clearly remember hearing the Quito frogs singing in the cold nights and looking for bugs under the stones in the morning. I have to thank my mother for showing me a marvelous chicken birth and what I consider my very first exposure to embryology. Every child should have a similar opportunity.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I had the great fortune of working with great mentors with Dr. Eugenia del Pino, Dr. Richard Elinson, and Dr. Luis Coloma being the most influential to my scientific formation. I became extremely interested in embryological events while working with the outstanding Ecuadorian embryologist Dr. Eugenia del Pino. In her lab, I had the opportunity to be involved – for the first time – in the diverse and fascinating area of embryology by studying the embryos of Ecuadorian frogs which began my fascination for this almost unknown field of biology. My love for molecular techniques, evolution, and direct development came from Dr. Elinson’s expertise, and my passion for reproductive biology and ecology came from scientific interaction with the brilliant herpetologist Dr. Luis Coloma.

Was there something specific about the Computational Genomics course that drew you to apply?
There were three main reasons I applied for the Computational Genomics course in CSHL: 1) My previous experience in the CSHL Xenopus and live imaging training courses were brilliant; 2) The outstanding instructors listed for the genomics course; and 3) CSHL is considered one of the most prestigious scientific institutes in the world.

What and/or how will you apply what you've learned from the course to your work?
Undoubtedly, all the information I acquired from the course will be of great help in my research and institution. I have to say that my research in the non-model science world. Ecuadorian alternative models such as frogs, ascidians, and sea slugs do not have standardized molecular tools as in mice, Xenopus, or the human. Fortunately, in this course I learned of alternative ways to take advantage of modern computational tools to analyze transcriptomic data from my non-model species and still get informative results despite the absence of reference genomes and other existing tools that are easily obtained in human and mouse. Institutionally, my Computational Genomics training is very important because these skills can be shared with other laboratories and groups in collaborative investigations.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
The take-home message from the Computational Genomics course is that genomics is a flexible tool that can offer several alternative strategies to solve one single question. The experience of the genomics experts and mentors were extremely useful to learn how to effectively extract many hidden results from your data.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
My answer would say to complete all the homework sent by the instructors before the course. Even when you are not required to be an expert in the field, you must have a certain level of knowledge in order to get in the fast lane of learning. Also, bring data. If you have an unsolved problem in this regard, the Computational Genomics course is the right place to solve it.

How many CSHL courses have you attended?
Computational Genomics, 2018
Scientific Writing Retreat, 2018
Immunocytochemistry, In Situ Hybridization & Live Cell Imaging, 2009
Cell & Developmental Biology of Xenopus, 2006

Thinking back on your course at CSHL (Cell & Developmental Biology of Xenopus in 2006), did you notice differences or similarities between that course and Computational Genomics?
I still clearly remember how intense and diverse the training was at the Xenopus course in 2006 and, even after 12 years, that same level intensity and high quality of the courses in CSHL has remained the same. Although, considering the tasks sent weeks before the course started, preparation of a poster, and the mid-term test, I could even say that Computational Genomics might be more demanding than the 2006 course.

Since your first two CSHL courses, your career stage has changed. Given your present position, did your experience in the course change in any way?
Course features such as intensity and quality of the knowledge offered are contrastable; however, it is without doubt that CSHL offers first-rate courses instructed by leaders in the field of science. Over the years, my capacity of appreciating this knowledge has evolved. When I was a younger researcher, I did not fully appreciate how great an opportunity it was to train and be trained in one the most prestigious scientific institutes in the world. But, as my experience has expanded, I have become more aware of the magnitude of having opportunities to learn and to learn from such a source.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The confidence that you acquire by mastering specific techniques. The rate of learning in CSHL is very high as is the demand and complexity of the courses. It is great to have the opportunity to ask your questions to pioneers, leaders, and scientific experts that collaborate with CSHL to teach and share their knowledge. 

Oscar received a fellowship from Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador (PUCE). On behalf of Oscar, thank you to the PUCE for supporting and enabling our scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Oscar for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.