PeerJ Awards Winners at SESBE 2024

by | Feb 13, 2024 | Award Winner Interviews

Set against the backdrop of Málaga, much like its predecessors, the IX Biennial Meeting of the Spanish Society for Evolutionary Biology (SESBE), held between the 17th and the 19th of January 2024, was a dynamic platform that hosted over 150 participants, not only from Spain, but from other 6 countries. The inherently interdisciplinary nature of evolutionary biology was reflected in our programme, which was crafted with a balance of oral and poster presentations from different topics, including genetics, paleontology, evo-devo, behavioral ecology, philosophy, and more, all providing an outstanding platform for fruitful and deep discussions between participants.

Juan Pascual Anaya, Organizing Committee.


Mara Laguna Castro PhD Candidate at the National Institute of Aerospace Technology, Spain. 

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

My research background involves viruses, evolution and structural biology. As I am approaching the completion of my PhD thesis, I am currently considering opportunities for a postdoctoral experience. I find great motivation in the prospect of undertaking a multidisciplinary project that centers on the study of virus evolution, adaptation and behavior through the employment of a diverse array of methodologies.

Can you briefly explain the research you presented at SESBE 2024?

RNA viruses serve as highly valuable models for studying the evolutionary process, but the study of their own evolutionary process itself can be particularly relevant, especially under certain circumstances (such as the COVID-19 pandemic). Viruses have developed mechanisms to optimize the infection of their hosts when they have to survive under selective stress conditions. However, identifying the molecular basis of these adaptive strategies can be difficult. Experimental evolutionary studies carried out under controlled conditions in the lab can be of great help in these cases.

We developed an experimental design to explore the virus’ adaptive pathways under two different selective pressures applied either individually or simultaneously: host scarcity and suboptimal temperatures. We found that the evolutionary strategy for adapting to low host availability is common regardless of the environmental temperature. Viruses enhance their infection ability, presumably by improving their affinity for the host receptor. However, the adaptive pathways for following this strategy differ depending on the temperature. At optimal temperature, they adapt through the selection of a certain mutation, and at high temperature, through the selection of a different one.

What are your next steps?

Right now, we are engaged in an international collaboration project aimed to unveil the molecular mechanisms through which these two mutations work. By performing molecular dynamics simulations of our model virus, we intend to predict how our mutants behave at different temperatures in comparison with the wild type.


Marina García Sarmiento University of Málaga, Spain. 

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

I graduated in Biology from the University of Malaga and specialised in the conservation and evolution of animals when I took the master’s degree in Animal Biodiversity at the University of Valencia. I have always been curious about life and therefore, since I started studying biology, each of its fields has fascinated me, going through microbiology, cellular biology, and finally reaching my true passion from the beginning, animal biodiversity. That is why today I want to continue researching and learning about the fauna that surrounds us and all those that have remained in the past and were fundamental pillars as transistions to the biodiversity of today.

What first interested you in this field of research?

Scientific research plays an essential role in broadening our perception and appreciation of the world, and I personally want to discover more about animal biodiversity. Research in the field of palaeobiology and using modern tools to analyse ancient structures offers a unique perspective on the evolutionary history of animals.

Can you briefly explain the research you presented at SESBE 2024?

The study I carried out together with my colleagues from the Department of Ecology and Geology of the University of Malaga deals with intervertebral movement and its relationship with the mode of locomotion in sirenians. The order Sirenia is currently composed of 3 species of manatees (family Trichechidae) and 1 species of dugong (family Dugongidae). Current sirenians differ in the mode of their aquatic locomotion, with manatees exhibiting dorsoventral undulation and subcarangiform locomotion (the movement wave originates in the centre of the body) and dugongs being characterised by caudal oscillation and carangiform or tuniform locomotion (the origin of the movement wave occurs posterior to the body). We hypothesised that these differences in the mode of locomotion would be reflected in the spine of present-day sirenians through the analysis of intervertebral movement in the sagittal, axial and lateral axes. For this purpose, the vertebrae of 4 manatees and 4 dugongs were digitised, the vertebral columns were prepared using the AutoBend method, as well as the intervertebral joints, and their movement was analysed. The results obtained showed how the types of locomotion of each family of modern sirenians was related to the functional flexibility obtained from the analysis of the vertebral columns.

How will you continue to build on this research?

The results of this research and the fossil record open up the possibility of investigating the evolution of locomotion modes in sirenians. Therefore, we could consider further palaeobiological research using this method. Right now, we are also studying the possible influence of vertebral morphology on the aquatic locomotion of present-day sirenians, trying to find paleobiological aspects of the vertebral column.
In conclusion, I want to dedicate myself to what I am passionate about, so my next steps will be to continue exploring and participating in conservation and biodiversity projects, and even in scientific dissemination to share knowledge with a wider public.

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