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Sophie Blinker, a double Master's student in Biomedical Sciences and Medicine, has conducted research into a specific protein in bacterial spores to contribute to food safety. The scientific magazine International Journal of Molecular Sciences paid attention to her research. The scientific publication lists Sophie Blinker as the first author, which is very exceptional for a student. The Faculty of Science spoke to her.

What have you researched? 

‘I've been researching spores of B. subtilis. These occur in our food and can cause food spoilage and disease transmission. They form a little 'jacket' that makes them resistant to external influences. Such a jacket consists of proteins. I've researched one specific protein that is believed to trigger the degradation process. Knowledge about this is important, for example for factories where food is produced.’ 

How does a student become first author? 

‘Simply by investing a lot of time in a research and then sending it to a well-known science magazine!’ 

‘No, jokes apart, this has been preceded by a long process. When we had analysed all the simulations, we concluded that the data was interesting. My research supervisor Stanley Brul thought we could submit the results to a journal.’  

And, what happened? 

‘We received a positive response from the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, but they wanted a lot of extra information though, such as new simulations and new deeper analyses. We then ran extra simulations at high speed on a second UvA supercomputer. They all had to be analysed in a very short time. We also had to supply more figures. However, the results did not change after these additional analyses. This was actually the toughest part of the whole research process.’ 

‘I got a lot of help and advice from Jocelyn Vreede (computational chemistry) and Stanley, but since I ended up doing most of the work on this research, I'm listed as the lead author. It is special because not many students complete such a large study during their studies. I understand that, I've been working with bacterial spores for about 5 years.’ 

Sophie Blinker: student als eerste auteur wetenschappelijke publicatie
Sophie Blinker

How did you come up with this topic? 

‘I have always been interested in how the microbiome works. During my bachelor I wrote a paper about it. This resulted in various projects during my bachelor internship and the research honours I followed. After the internship, Stanley asked if I wanted to simulate a spore protein. That is building a model of a specific protein of a spore organ and simulating its functioning. That's how I got further and further into this topic.’ 

How did you approach your research practically? 

‘After my bachelor I had a gap year. During that year I learned to program because that was necessary to be able to model. I had no programming knowledge at all but it seemed like a fun challenge to me. I also taught first-year UvA students and did voluntary research for six months. After half a year I travelled for a few months; the simulations ran and the models made calculations. After that I did the pre-Master's in Medicine and started analysing and writing. I also did a few courses from the Master's degree in Biomedical Sciences afterwards. When I finished this Master, I wrote the article for my research. In total I spent about 2.5 years on this research.’ 

What profession are you aiming to? 

‘I would like to be both a doctor and a researcher. I find infectious diseases very interesting, or internal medicine. Anyway, I want to stay in academia.’