Scientific hiking

Did you know that the human intestine is made up of more than 40 square meters of tissue? In addition, inside, we find a series of folds reminiscent of valleys and mountain peaks. Studying its behaviour and formation is quite an adventure! Gerardo Ceada, a doctoral student at IBEC, is an expert in this type of expeditions.

Gerardo is from Huelva, but he has been in Catalonia for several years: he studied a double degree in biology and biotechnology in Girona and he has been at IBEC for 4 years, in Xavier Trepat’s laboratory.

 

Broadly speaking, his research project is focused on understanding how cellular forces and the physical characteristics of the environment affect cells: from processes such as differentiation, proliferation or migration. But he does not study it with any type of cells, but rather with those found in the mouse intestinal tissue, creating intestinal organoids. And it is that, the intestinal epithelium is completely renewed every 3-5 days! Fascinating right? According to some estimates our body eliminates about 100.000.000.000 (1011) intestinal cells/day!!!!!!!

The main function of the intestine is to absorb nutrients, and for this, it has a very special shape: folds are formed in its internal part, in order to maximize the absorption surface. But how are these little mountains formed?

This is one of the phenomena that Gerardo is investigating at IBEC. In fact, one of his greatest achievements was to participate in the development of a new technology to measure forces in intestinal organoids. They discovered that, contrary to what was believed until now, cells at these small intestinal mountains pull the new ones up, like a mountain climber helping another climb by pulling him.

To study all this, Gerardo has had to learn new techniques. And the fact is that, since he is at IBEC, he has been able to meet people with very different backgrounds, with whom he can share ideas and learn new techniques, such as computational analysis.

 

In the science world, it is very common to take photos of samples. In Gerardo’s case this is not a dull chore, since one of his hobbies is photography. Actually, his is a photographer, like mother, like son. Above all, he likes to take pictures of landscapes, and well, we have already seen that the intestinal epithelium has a lot in common with an alpine landscape 😉

In order to follow cell movement in 3D Gerardo had to take about 23,000 images in 6h! And of course, this large number of photos defies all cloud storage laws, not even the best GooglePhotos subscription is capable of hosting so much information. In fact, one of Gerardo’s experiments occupied more than 1TB of memory…

We don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not, but another of Gerardo’s hobbies is hiking. At the slightest opportunity, he signs up for any plan that involves leaving the city and getting lost in nature. Surely, while hiking, he comes up with new theories or ideas that you can apply to your research!

Who knows, maybe in a near future, Gerardo will surprise us with an art and science exhibition, uniting his three passions: nature, photography and science!