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Published: 2022-12-06

Investigates heterogeneity in infecting bacteria

NEWS Kenyan Joram Kiriga Waititu is a new ‘Excellence of Choice’ postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Molecular Biology within the UCMR community at the Umeå university. He focuses on bacteria – deciphering heterogeneous populations of infecting bacteria with single-cell RNA-sequencing.

Text: Ingrid Söderbergh

Before I came here, I yearned to experience life in Sweden!

Single cell RNA-sequencing is a recently developed technique that provides the opportunity to study biological functions in different types of cells - each individual cell at a time.

What is your academic background?

“I am a biochemist, molecular biologist, and bioinformatician professional with a concrete foundation of a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, a Master of Science degree in crop genetics and breeding from Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University in China, and a Doctoral degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, China.” 

What was it like to start your research carrier in China?

“Beijing, the capital of China, was my career eye-opener through exposing me to various scientists of different backgrounds on research conference forums. The city swiftly and amicably transformed my critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”

“My PhD project focused on high-throughput transcriptome (RNA-SEQ) profiling of distinct maize genotypes with contrasting responses to abiotic stress to identify essential genes, pathways, and ncRNAs for developing improved plants.”

How did you end up in Northern Sweden and at Umeå University?

“First of all, before I came here, I yearned to experience life in Sweden! In my opinion, it is a country with excellent educational standards and amiable citizens. On the other hand, I came across an advertisement at LinkedIn for various postdoctoral positions at Umeå university. Among them was a project utilizing single-cell RNA-sequencing, an upgrade of RNA-sequencing, which I used to profile plants during my master's and PhD studies. Upon searching about Umeå University, I also realized that it is the home of Emmanuelle Charpentier, a renowned scientist who discovered CRISPR-Cas9 and in 2020 was rewarded the Nobel prize. “

What is your current research focusing on?

“My research focuses on deciphering heterogeneous populations of infecting bacteria with single-cell RNA-sequencing. However, sc-RNAseq in bacteria is challenging because of bacteria's low mRNA concentration and shorter half-life, a thick cell wall that renders eukaryotic lysis processes difficult, and the absence of poly-adenylated mRNAs for the successful capture of all mRNAs.”

“Nevertheless, to overcome the aforementioned difficulties and significantly contribute to a better understanding of microbial heterogeneity, I have a concept gleaned from the various methodologies reported for investigating single-cell heterogeneity in bacteria.”

What is challenging and rewarding respectively with being a researcher?

“Being a researcher in molecular biology is challenging because most projects fail even before they are initiated. In other words, you will experience greater failure than you anticipated. The rewarding aspect of it is that one success out of thousands of failures will make you the only researcher ever to make such a discovery and, in some way, alter the course of human history.”

Where do you see yourself in five years?

“I would like to become a respected and well-known scientist and maybe even move forward to a senior or managerial role.”

What are your first impressions of Sweden, Umeå and Umeå University?

“Cold, dark, quiet, and clean! Maybe, that is because I have not experienced summer in Umeå, arriving to Sweden in November as I did… Regarding the university, I find it cozy. It is not about studying all the time – you have liberal and flexible time to study and solve problems. It makes one think thoroughly.”

Shorts facts about Joram:

Lives in: Historiegränd in Ålidhem and comes from Kenya
Me in three words: Driven, Communicative, and Reliable
Kenya in three words: Beautiful, Accessible, and Affordable
Exciting about molecular biology: Helps in understanding and appreciating the variety of ways life exists on this tiny planet.
Interests: Travelling, playing football, hiking, reading
Favourite book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Listening to: Hip hop all day long
Unexpected talent: comedian
Miss from home: Ugali – a kind of thick maize porridge in East African cuisine
The first Swedish word I learned: Fika
Wanted to become when I was a child: A doctor

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