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PlasticsFatE - Boosting the Careers of our Young Researchers

In this article, Giulia Antonello (UNITO) describes how she has found that PlasticsFatE is not only about research: it’s also 'a protagonist in the training of young researchers and the birth of new international collaborations'.

"I am a PhD student at UNITO, partner of PlasticsFatE, and I've been lucky enough to be involved in this project for about a year. The project of my doctoral thesis focuses on the evaluation of the toxicity of micro and nano materials, in particular at the intestinal level, through the use of advanced in vitro models. That is why it fits very well with the development of this European project. In fact, PlasticsFatE gave me the opportunity to implement my thesis with a chapter entirely dedicated to today's important problem represented by micro and nano plastics which, being ubiquitous, can easily be identified even in food preparations consumed by humans on a daily basis. In this project, thanks to the skills acquired at UNITO and within its multidisciplinary team, my colleagues and I are dealing with the chemical-physical characterization of the possible changes that plastic particles can undergo during the digestive process and investigating what effects these changes may be have on the intestine.

Within PlasticsFatE there are 28 partners based in 11 countries across Europe, and with very different skills. From the beginning, UNITO began collaborating with some of them, including GAIKER. In fact, this partner has objectives similar to those of UNITO and has complementary skills which, when combined, can lead to broader and more consistent results.

Given the effective collaboration established, we took advantage of the opportunity presented by a period abroad for my doctoral course to make this partnership even more solid and fruitful by exchanging knowledge and skills between the two organisations. Thus, I embarked on this path with the full support of my PhD supervisors, Prof. Enrico Bergamaschi, Ivana Fenoglio and Chiara Riganti, to learn new techniques that the UNITO team had not yet mastered. Thanks to the availability and experience of Gaiker researcher Alberto Katsumiti, at Gaiker I was able to learn new techniques such as the manipulation of microbiological cultures applied to the formation of bacterial biofilm on the surface of microplastics, and the preparation and analysis of samples by SEM. At the same time, the Gaiker team was given the opportunity to work with advanced in vitro models and in vitro simulated human digestion processes, which were already in UNITO's and validated at the beginning of the project.

This collaboration has not only been an opportunity for a fruitful sharing of research between the two partners involved, but has also made it possible to obtain high quality and a good quantity of results useful for understanding the possible effects that microplastics can have on our body.

Furthermore, in addition to the professional aspects, this experience has allowed me to grow personally, to meet people who are not only competent, but also kind and available, and to consolidate and implement my knowledge of the fantastic language that is Spanish.

Many thanks to the PlasticsFatE project which first facilitated this collaboration; to GAIKER, which allowed me to temporarily be part of their team; and to UNITO, whose members are mainly responsible for my training, my professional growth, and always support me."

Rudolf Reuther, the PlasticsFatE Scientific Coordinator, added: 'This is indeed a wonderful story and an example of how a project like PlasticsFatE can help young researchers to develop not only their professional but also their personal skills and life situation in an environment, where many researchers from different backgrounds, disciplines and experiences closely work together towards one common goal!'

The PlasticsFatE Consortium conveys its thanks to Giulia for her excellent and novel research and insights, and to Alberto, Isabel, Felipe and Enrico and others for making this valuable opportunity possible.

Watch this space for the research paper being produced from the results of this collaboration.

Image: Team Gaiker with Giulia. From left to right: Felipe Goñi, Giulia Antonello, Isabel Rodríguez and Alberto Katsumiti.

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