PeerJ Award winners Simona and Iván discuss genetics, evolution, plant sex chromosomes and their passion for scientific discovery

PeerJ Award winners Simona Barankova and Iván Pérez Lorenzox with their poster at SESBE VII.

Some good news today! We congratulate and recognize two young researchers, Simona Barankova and Iván Pérez Lorenzox. They received the PeerJ Award for Best Poster at the Congress of the Spanish Society for Evolutionary Biology (SESBE VII) that was held in Seville, Spain in early February this year. The posters were evaluated in terms of design and layout, attractiveness, scientific content, verbal interaction with the presenter and overall impression.

The PeerJ Award includes a free publication in PeerJ – the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences (upon peer review and acceptance).

Learn more about Simone and Iván’s research and award-winning poster in their interview below.

  • Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and your research interests?

Iván and I first worked together in the summer of 2018 when we were both completing internships at the Botanical Institute of Barcelona. The next summer Iván came to the Czech Republic, for an internship at the Institute of Biophysics, where I worked at that time. During that summer we discussed our ideas and research and came up with plans for our joint research.

Simona Barankova in the lab.

Simona:  In the last year of my degree at Mendel University in Brno, I chose an optional course entitled Genetic Engineering, which finally led me to choose the professional path of a researcher. I started working on my bachelor project at the Institute of Biophysics in the Czech Republic (Department of Plant Developmental Genetics), where I have have been studying the evolution of separate sexes in plant models, which possess young sex chromosomes – this topic fascinates me. My main focus and experience are in molecular biology, more specifically in epigenetics. Currently, I am working on a master project investigating the epigenetic reprogramming and X-chromosome reactivation in mammalian stem cells (CRG Barcelona).

Iván Pérez Lorenzox conducting research.

Iván:  Since I was in my third year of degree I was very clear that I wanted to devote myself to plant research, but I did not know what field to focus on. During my stay in Barcelona, where I met Simona, I began to focus on phylogeny using molecular markers. During my bachelor thesis, I also started with phylogeography, and currently, I collaborate with the Department of Ecology of the Complutense University of Madrid, combining it with other more applied research such as the search for genes that determine the natural variation in the flowering of Arabidopsis. I am also very interested in classical botany, so I often visit the Botanical Garden to help out with the computer tools to generate phylogenies of the Anacyclus genus.

  • Can you briefly explain the research you presented at SESBE?

Dioecious plant species represent a unique opportunity to look back and to trace the steps in the evolution of separate sexes. In mammals, we have already lost this opportunity, due to a high degree of male sex chromosome degeneration. Together with the variability present in the plant sexual systems, dioecious plants are a great model for various evolutionary and ecological studies. At SESBE we presented a poster demonstrating this with the title, “Dioecious plants: the key to understanding the evolution of sex.” The poster focused on a genome evolution point-of-view in the genus Silene. We also used Humulus Lupulus (hops), a new model in the laboratory, to demonstrate the current methods of molecular biology performed in this research.

  • What are your next steps? How will you continue to build on this research?

We are currently actively working together on a publication for the Plant Sex Chromosomes database project (a joint project of the Institute of Biophysics in Brno and the Botanical Institute in Barcelona), which has already been released online (

We are very enthusiastic to continue with our cooperation in the future. Within dioecious plants, there is a significant amount of important species (i.e. agronomically – containing secondary metabolites), such as the family Canabaceae, possessing only two (dioecious) species – Humulus lupus and Cannabis sativa. We would like to build a project based on the characterization of their sex chromosomes, evolutionary relationship, and origin of those species.

Iván Pérez Lorenzox

Simona Barankova

We have also thought about starting in the world of scientific dissemination because we are both passionate about what we do and we want to share with and teach other people that do not have daily contact with scientific experiments or research. We believe that sharing our experience and enthusiasm could encourage more young people to join this exciting journey.

We are young and very passionate about adding pieces to the mosaic of scientific knowledge. We hope we can contribute to a better understanding of the miracle of nature, which is surrounding us.

Our sincere congrats to Simona and Iván from all of us at PeerJ!

View related research in these PeerJ Sections: Plant Biology, Bioinformatics and Genomics, Biodiversity and Conservation, and Paleontology and Evolutionary Science.

View last year’s PeerJ Award winners and additional interviews at

About: PeerJ is an Open Access publisher of seven peer-reviewed journals. PeerJ’s mission is to help the world efficiently publish its knowledge. All works published by PeerJ are Open Access and published using a Creative Commons license (CC-BY 4.0).

PeerJ – the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences is the peer-reviewed journal for Biology, Medicine and Environmental Sciences. PeerJ also publishes PeerJ Computer Science, and five newly launched PeerJ Chemistry journals.

By teaming up with a number of conferences, societies, and institutions to offer these awards, we are making it as easy as possible for organizers to reward excellence in science, support students and early career researchers, and signal to the wider research community that open science is better science. Learn more here and get in touch if you are looking to offer a ‘Best Presentation’ award at