Michael Sars Centre

Coming to us from Italy, PhD students researching our local Ciona.

Chiara Castelletti and Vincenzo Perria are here in Bergen to reveal the secrets of Ciona’s development and its resilience to climate change.  

Portrait of Chiara Castelletti and Vincenzo Perria
PhD students Vincenzo Perria and Chiara Castelletti have joined Lionel Christiaen's group.
Marion Lebouvier

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Can you tell us about your project and your background?


I grew up near Lake Como in Italy, a really beautiful place! I then moved to Milan for my Bachelor’s degree in Biology. I was always fascinated with marine life and I wanted more environment-oriented studies, so I decided to continue with a Master’s in Marine Sciences. I also liked molecular biology, and for my thesis, I chose to work on the development of the nervous system in a crinoid.  My PhD project is about finding out how ascidians like Ciona adapt to environmental perturbations such as differences in temperatures, salinity, and pH. I am interested to know whether these induce changes in gene expression for example.


I also come from Italy but from a different region, Sardinia. I did a Bachelor’s degree in Biology in Cagliari, where I had the opportunity to have my first international experience with an internship at UCLA. I came back to Italy for my Master’s degree, in Rome this time, to study Molecular Biology, this is when I first heard of the Sars Centre. I actually did my master’s thesis in the group of Marios Chatzigeorgiou! I was looking at the role of neurotransmitters during development in Ciona. For my PhD, I will be looking into the transcription factor Mesp. It was shown that it is important for the determination of cardiac progenitor cells in both ascidians and vertebrates, and I am particularly interested in the gene-network through which Mesp affects development.  

Why did you decide to do your PhD at the Sars Centre? 


I was looking for PhD opportunities, and I really wanted to experience working abroad. I was looking for institutes that combine environmental and molecular biology research, and the Sars Centre came up. I had some experience working with Ciona during my studies and I enjoyed it a lot, so I was immediately interested in Lionel’s projects. 


Like Chiara, I had a very positive experience working with Ciona so the open PhD position in Lionel’s group caught my attention. During my internship, I liked that the PIs at Sars are young and have strong networks with researchers all over the world. And I loved the city for the proximity to nature and all the outdoors activities opportunities. Overall, I thought that it was a great environment for young researchers and I was hoping to come back! 

- What are you the most excited about in this new stage of your career/position? 


I am really excited to work at the Sars Centre. I feel like we have very high standards for science here that will help me grow as a scientist. And I have only been here for a few weeks but I already like Bergen. It’s a beautiful city, it feels very safe and the social environment is very welcoming. I am looking forward to discovering more!  


I am excited to be again in an international environment and to get to work with scientists from all over the world.