Lucian Staicu

Fulbright Student Researcher, 2012-2013

A view from inside out

It all started several years ago, at the beginning of my PhD in Delft, The Netherlands, when I came across several papers written by Elizabeth Pilon-Smits, plant Biologist and professor at Colorado State University (CSU). And it was not long before I wrote her an email. The answer was prompt and encouraging. When the first signs of a successful Fulbright application became apparent, the potential host lab was already well defined on the map. Elizabeth had been working for many years on plants that hyperaccumulate selenium (a close relative of sulfur and an element known for its toxicity) but only marginally on the bacteria that dwell inside them.

The interesting part about bacteria and selenium is that some can metabolize it to nanoparticles, a hot topic nowadays. This is where Christopher Ackerson (CSU), top-notch Nanotechnology researcher, enters the scene. Together, we started to investigate what sort of relationship develops between bacteria and their host plants, but also the molecular reactions evoked by selenium when entering the bacterial cell. One of the major findings was a novel bacterial species that is highly specialized in dealing with toxic selenium by forming nanoparticles. Plants might use these ‘bugs’ to keep the levels of selenium under control. It seems, if properly arranged, all the pieces reconstruct a puzzle that started several million years ago, when the environmental constrains forced these partners to evolve together. Forced relationship, but a successful one!

Back to Europe, after the completion of the Fulbright stage, I followed up on the outstanding capacity of selenium nanoparticles to defy gravity. This is important in view of their environmental persistence and deleterious effects to aquatic life. Last December I defended my PhD thesis in Delft, a synthesis of the last 4 years of experimental research, with several important components developed and refined at CSU. The collaboration with Elizabeth and Chris is ongoing and we are currently exploring other ramifications of the initial project.

My fulbright experience

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Students at the advising center

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Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission

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Phone: 021.230.77.19
Fax: 021.230.77.38
E-mail: office@fulbright.ro

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