Visitor of the Week: Sophia Heyde


Meet Sophia Heyde of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Centrer for Biosustainability at the Technical University of Denmark. The PhD student is a member of Morten Nørholm’s lab in the Microbial Evolution and Synthetic Biology group. Sophia has been on campus for the last two weeks training at the annual course on Synthetic Biology

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am a young scientist driven by the potential of producing biochemicals through engineering of cell factories in order to advance towards a greener, more sustainable future. My PhD project, therefore, addresses host intolerance of microbes used for production -- a major bottleneck in metabolic engineering -- and involves the investigation of a novel experimental evolution approach called retromutagenesis. 

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research? 
The possibility to perform research for a future beneficial to human kind. We can no longer deny challenges like climate change, the decreasing supply of petroleum, or the vast amount of plastics floating in our oceans. It is time to develop solutions for a greener and more sustainable future and it is (and always has been) my goal to contribute to this important task. 

How did your scientific journey begin? 
Thanks to my very ambitious high school biology teacher, who organized multiple excursions to universities and research centers to show us “real” science, I became interested in science and inspired to become a researcher myself. I started studying biology and during my bachelors, my focus on biotechnology and metabolic engineering intensified after a very inspiring talk by Jay Keasling I heard at an EMBL Heidelberg conference. 

Was there something specific about the Synthetic Biology course that drew you to apply?
I was especially interested in gaining experience in new synthetic biology approaches such as cell-free transcription and translation systems (TxTl) and RNA circuit design, and connecting classical wet lab synthetic biology tools with modelling approaches. 

What and/or how will you apply what you've learned from the course to your work? 
Personally, I found the course to be extremely inspiring and will apply this fresh excitement into my project at my home institution. I learned to approach problems in different ways. The modelling and circuit design module, for example, showed me that looking into a biological problem in a more modular way can spark new ideas and point out experimental design bottlenecks that weren’t before taken into consideration. 

Also, when working on the topic of evolution in my home institution, I will also remember a key statement from Francis Arnold’s talk: whenever performing evolution experiments, have a strong bias towards what you are screening for.  

What is your key takeaway from the course?
Approaching a problem or question with a diverse set of perspectives -- especially when working alongside researchers with totally different backgrounds -- can lead to extremely fruitful discussions and high-quality solutions. 

How many CSHL courses have you attended? Have you participated in a CSHL meeting?
This is my first one, and I would love to attend a meeting at CSHL in the future!If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
This course offers a unique chance to learn and practice cutting-edge synthetic biology methods in a world-class environment. Hearing from the first-hand experience of well-chosen researchers and speakers opens an extremely inspiring and captivating learning environment. Participating in the CSHL Synbio course is a great experience and does not just enlarge your scientific skill set but also your social skills because you interact with a diverse group of interesting people from all over the world.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The very open and non-competitive atmosphere of the course led to a lot of creativity, inspiration, and all of us becoming really good friends in a very short amount of time. We had a lot of fun together inside and outside the lab: spontaneous canoe rides during incubation times, midnight swims, daytrips to NYC, and table football tournaments. 

Sohia received financial support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to cover a portion of her course tuition. On behalf of Sophia, thank you to HHMI for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Sophia 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.

Photo: Constance Brukin