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All there is to discover and develop

Karen Butina Ogorelec, researcher, main areas or research: bio-inspired coating based on fungal biofilms

  • Where were you living in childhood and where do you live now?

I grew up in Ljubljana and am currently living in Izola.

  • What have you studied and what were the motives for your decision?

Sometime in high school I read about Golden rice which made me very enthusiastic about the prospect of genetic engineering. Therefore, I chose to do a BSc in Biotechnology at the University of Ljubljana. During this time, I became interested in stem cells and decided to pursue a MSc in Biomedicine, which I did at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. On a lecture given as a part of this program I was introduced to organic bioelectronics and found it very exciting, so I pursued a PhD (at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden) developing early diagnostic methods for bacteria using organic bioelectronics.

  • How would you describe your work to someone outside your field?

Within the scope of the current project, we are working towards the development of living coatings made of fungal biofilms. Due to the nature of the fungi the coating provides protection from several biotic and abiotic factors that cause deterioration of wood (and other materials) and since it is alive it can regenerate itself when damaged. Currently, we are at the initial stage of the project and our main aim is to understand the fungi and how they interact with materials. To do this we perform several experiments in the lab, but we also go outside to observe these interactions in the built environment.

  • What does your typical working day look like?

I cannot really say there is a “typical” day but overall, most of my days contain some reading, performing experiments in the laboratory (or outside of it), analysing the data and meetings with my colleagues.

  • What makes you excited about your work?

The opportunity to learn continuously and all the interesting people that surround me.

  • And what is the biggest challenge at your work?

To prioritize – because there are so many interesting things one can do but there is never enough time.

  • Which scientist or scientific achievement are you fascinated by and why?

The discovery of CRISPR by Francis Mojica and the subsequent technology developed by Jennifer Doudna, Emmanuelle Charpentier, and others. It is really a revolution in the life sciences.

  • Tell us about the work of art (books, music, movies, theatre, dance, visual arts) that has a special place in your life.

That would be the book Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk.

  • What have you read, listened to, or watched lately?

I read Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe, watched Triangle of Sadness and listened to Ennio Morricone (not live of course 😊).

  • Which place on the Slovene coast do you like the most?

The saltpans between the Slovenian and Croatian border.

  • What makes you enthusiastic?

Dreaming about all there is to discover and develop.

  • Characterize your life’s guidance or an important realization (or epiphany) you have experienced.

Hm … I am still waiting for it.

  • What does the charm of wood mean to you?

Its versatility – it comes in so many shapes and fulfils so many roles.