Here, we chat with Dr. Travis Courtney about his newest publication in PLOS ONE, his exciting research on coral reefs, and his…
In July, we updated our Nanomaterials Collection, featuring papers published over the past few years in PLOS ONE. This collection showcases the breadth of the nanomaterials community at PLOS ONE, and includes papers on a variety of topics, such as the fabrication of nanomaterials, nanomaterial-cell interactions, the role of nanomaterials in drug delivery, and nanomaterials in the environment.
To celebrate this updated collection, we are conducting a series of Q&As with authors whose work is included in the collection. Next out is our conversations with Roberto Vazquez-Muñoz from the University of Connecticut Health Center, Roselyne Ferrari from Université de Paris and Yerol Narayana from Mangalore University. They discuss the future potential of nanomaterials research, the value of open science practices, and their experiences of pursuing unexpected effects seen in the lab. We will be adding more author interviews over the next few weeks, so please do keep checking back.
Roberto Vazquez-Muñoz – University of Connecticut Health Center
Currently, I work at the University of Connecticut Health Center (UConn Health), USA. I’m a nanomedicine scientist with a multidisciplinary background: B.Sc. with a concentration in Biology, with postgraduate education in Microbiology (M. Sc.) and Nanotechnology (Ph.D.). My research focuses on the complex systems’ interactions between antimicrobial nanomaterials (nanoantibiotics), microbial cells (pathogens and probiotics), antibiotics, and the environment. My goal is to develop affordable, novel nanotechnology-based solutions to combat multidrug-resistant infectious diseases, particularly for communities under limited resources. My network includes international and transdisciplinary research teams to develop applied nanotechnology solutions for the agricultural, veterinary, and clinical sectors. My work has been published in international peer-reviewed journals, and I have developed patented and commercial products. I’ve been awarded by different institutions such as The Ensenada Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education (Mexico), Rotary International’s Rotaract, the International Network of Bionanotechnology, and the New England I-Corps (MIT)/Accelerate (UCONN) program.
Roberto Vazquez-Muñoz’s paper in the Nanomaterials Collection: Vazquez-Muñoz R, Meza-Villezcas A, Fournier PGJ, Soria-Castro E, Juarez-Moreno K, Gallego-Hernández AL, et al. (2019) Enhancement of antibiotics antimicrobial activity due to the silver nanoparticles impact on the cell membrane. PLoS ONE 14(11): e0224904. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0224904
What motivated you to work in this field?
RVM: My motivation to work in this field comes from my interest in the impact of infectious diseases through history and our ability to create solutions to combat them. This interest led me to focus on the interactions between nanomaterials, microbial cells, and antimicrobial substances for combat infection. Additionally, as current treatments are less and less effective against pathogens, nanotechnology has proven to be an effective strategy to fight the crisis of infectious diseases.
Nanomaterials research has increased in popularity over the past few years as a research topic. Do you envision that the field can continue to grow this way, and do you see any challenges on the horizon?
RVM: Yes, nanomaterials research has increased in popularity worldwide, and we have seen exponential growth in publications. The field will continue to grow for years as we constantly discover nanomaterial’s novel structures, properties, and applications. Additionally, we continuously develop novel synthesis methods and understand the interactions between nanomaterials and other systems (organisms, materials, environment, etc.).
However, there are several challenges on the horizon. A critical challenge is understanding the impact of nanomaterials on living organisms and the environment. It is crucial to expand the research on human and ecological nanotoxicology and the fate of “nano-waste” on the environment. Another challenge is the standardization of research data. As nanomaterials research is a multidisciplinary field, there is still a lack of standard criteria for conducting and publishing research, leading to difficulties in comparing data from different studies.
Can you tell us about an experience during your research, whether in the lab or at the computer or in conversation etc., where something finally clicked or worked?
RVM: One of my experiences during my research is when I was working on how nanomaterials increase the antibacterial activity of antibiotics. Different published studies showed the impact of nanomaterials on cell structure and metabolism. At the same time, other studies reported synergistic – or antagonistic – activity between nanomaterials and antibiotics; however, their explanations about the mechanisms were primarily theoretical. Unfortunately, there was no apparent connection between the proposed mechanisms and the synergistic activity reported by other groups. To fill that knowledge gap, we conducted experimental work to evaluate the physical and chemical interactions in the nanomaterials-antibiotics-microbial cell complex system. Then, when we compared our data with the literature, we started to see the connecting dots that could explain the synergistic activity of antibiotics. Moreover, our model could also explain some results published from other groups. That project was a stimulating and satisfactory experience and contributed to a better understanding of the synergistic activity of nanoparticles with antibiotics.
Is there a specific research area where a collaboration with the nanomaterials community could be particularly interesting for interdisciplinary research?
RVM: There are many research areas where interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaboration with the nanomaterials community is exciting. Nanomedicine is my first pick. The novel properties of nanomaterials have raised a lot of interest from the medical community, particularly for drug delivery, controlled release, reducing toxicity, among others. Additionally, beyond treatments, the development of new instrumentation, biosensors, analytical kits, sanitizing formulations, and other related applications for the healthcare sector is on the rise, creating more opportunities to work in diverse, interdisciplinary environments. In this regard, I have an interdisciplinary background (microbiology and nanotechnology), and my work focuses on medical applications, which allows me to participate in different research groups.
Roselyne Ferrari – Université de Paris
I am an Associate Professor in the Paris Diderot University (now Université de Paris) since 1994. I defended my PhD thesis entitled “Investigation of foliar lipid peroxidation in higher plants and evaluation of antioxidant capacities of sensitive or drought-resistant plants” in 1992 (Paris Diderot University, France) in the field of Tropical Plant Biology. I then got interested in microorganisms and studied a class of enzymes capable of detoxifying fatty acid hydroperoxides: “the alkylhydroperoxide reductases”. I then investigated the ability of Escherichia coli to detoxify emerging pollutants in aquatic environments and in particular man-made metal oxide nanoparticles. I participated for 10 years in the development of laboratory tests to assess the toxicity of zinc oxide and titanium nanoparticles in natural aquatic environments. I showed, through metabolomics and proteomics, that E. coli tries to overcome the stress caused by nanoparticles by increasing its oxidative and respiratory capacity. More recently, I started to work again on polyunsaturated fatty acids and peroxidation phenomena, but this time on fungi. Recently I am also interested in the ability of some microscopic coprophilous fungi to destroy lignocellulose. These ascomycete fungi are over-equipped with hydrolytic enzymes, such as oxidases or oxygenases.
Roselyne Ferrari’s paper in the Nanomaterials Collection: Planchon M, Léger T, Spalla O, Huber G, Ferrari R (2017) Metabolomic and proteomic investigations of impacts of titanium dioxide nanoparticles on Escherichia coli. PLoS ONE 12(6): e0178437. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0178437
What is your favorite thing about nanomaterials?
RF: I am interested in the toxicology of nanoparticles in the environment and more particularly in their dissemination in the 3 compartments (soil water air). I am also interested in the fixation of environmental metal oxide nanoparticles by the bark of urban trees.
Have you had any surprises in your research recently, where the result was not what you expected?
RF: I did indeed have some surprises in the results I got in the paper I published in PLOS ONE. I did not expect that the amount of ATP would increase in Escherichia coli bacteria after they were brought into contact with the titanium dioxide nanoparticles. Unfortunately I did not pursue this line of research and I remain on this question.
Did you have to adapt your work in light of the pandemic, and if so, how?
RF: I adapted like many researchers and continued my work following the recommendations of my University.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities for disseminating research in your field, or for communicating science in general?
RF: Social networks, media in general have allowed us to continue to disseminate to our fellow researchers as well as video conferencing.
Yerol Narayana – Mangalore University
Obtained MSc and PhD from Mangalore University. Presently the Professor and Chairman, Board of Studies, Department of Physics of Mangalore University. Area of research include ‘Environmental Radioactivity, ‘Radiation Biophysics’ and ‘Nanoparticles for Biomedical Applications’. Published more than 150 research papers in International Journals and presented more than 250 research papers in conferences. Completed five major research projects and one major research project is ongoing. Guided 13 students for PhD degree and 8 students are currently working for their PhD degree. Received ‘Commonwealth Fellowship Award’ for Post-Doctoral research in the United Kingdom during 2000-2001, ‘Wington Tiular Fellowship award’ from ACU in 2013, ‘Dr A K Ganguly Award’ from Indian Association for Radiation Protection, India in 2016, ‘Best Teacher Award’ from Mangalore University in the year 2017 and ‘Best Research Publication Award’ from Govt. of Karnataka, India, in 2019.
Yerol Narayana’s paper in the Nanomaterials Collection: Suvarna S, Das U, KC S, Mishra S, Sudarshan M, Saha KD, et al. (2017) Synthesis of a novel glucose capped gold nanoparticle as a better theranostic candidate. PLoS ONE 12(6): e0178202. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0178202
What route did you take to where you currently are in your career?
YN: I obtained my Masters degree in physics from, Mangalore University in 1989 and PhD degree from the same University in 1994. I joined the Physics Department of Mangalore University in 1995 as Assistant Professor and subsequently became Professor in 2010. I have done my Post-doctoral research at BGS, UK during 2000-01 under the commonwealth fellowship and subsequently at University of Stirling, UK in 2014 under Wighton-Titular Fellowship. Currently I am working as Professor of Physics at Mangalore University.
How important are open science practices in your field? Do you have any success stories from your own research of sharing or reusing code, data, protocols, open hardware, interacting with preprints, or something else?
YN: Open science practices are very useful in any field of scientific research. In my field, open access to published scientific materials have helped in a big way in designing experiments, data analysis and furtherance of research.
If you could dream really big, is there a particular material, function or material property that seems far away at the moment, but you think could be attained in the future?
YN: At present the major challenge in Radiotherapy is the radio-resistance of tumor cells and protecting the normal cells. Researchers are working on a concept of multiple therapy i.e. simultaneous chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hyperthermia therapy and radiotherapy to overcome the radio-resistance and it has been proved to be effective. Live tumor imaging is another big challenge. Some nanoparticles have shown potential to improve the aforesaid individual treatment and imaging techniques. At present, individual nanomaterials are being tried for treatment and imaging. The usage of multiple nanomaterials simultaneously would not be safe as their unique interaction mechanism may create unforeseen problems. Therefore, we need a single nanomaterial that is capable of supporting multiple therapy and live imaging to reduce the side effects and to assure safety. We believe that it will be a reality in the near future.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by contributors are solely those of individual contributors, and not necessarily those of PLOS.
Featured image: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0133088