This summer, CPB concentrator Brittany Petros will travel to Lisbon, Portugal as a Fulbright Scholar. In the lab, she’ll be investigating the connection between nutrition and the nervous system at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. Petros, who is of Portuguese descent herself, is the recipient of the 2018 Fulbright/Luso-American Foundation Research/Study Award.
“I was delighted to hear that I received the Fulbright grant,” says Petros. “The Fulbright affords me the opportunity to interact with a diverse group of individuals, including those of Portuguese and other European descents, and those interested in science and interested in other disciplines. I suspect that these interactions will ultimately make me a more culturally mature person, scientist, and physician.”
Her Fulbright-supported research will build off work she started as a summer research fellow in Carlos Ribeiro’s lab at Champalimaud in 2016. During that first summer, she studied whether mutations in a protein kinase called GCN2 affected fruit flies’ food consumption. Petros says that next year she will be “reversing” her strategy by quantitatively measuring gene expression to uncover more connections between food and neurons. “Over the summer [of 2016], I manipulated the genetic makeup of the fruit flies and studied their corresponding feeding phenotypes. Over the next year, I will manipulate the dietary conditions that the fruit flies will be provided, and computationally study the changes in their gene expression,” she explains.
Petros will also be taking the opportunity to hone her Portuguese language skills with a formal class and connect with her family roots. Her mother was born on the island of Graciosa in the Azores, a group of small Portuguese islands about 850 miles west of the continent. “My family is very close, and so I have been exposed to the language and culture via my mother, my Avo (grandmother), and my tias (aunts),” Petros says. “I am actually reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in Portuguese right now— but my speech is far more limited. I was surprised with how much Lisbon felt like home during my summer there, and I think that the feeling is rooted in my familial connection to the country.”
Those who know the budding physician scientist well weren’t terribly surprised to hear she was awarded the Fulbright grant. “I am so happy to hear that Brittany Petros was awarded the Fulbright!” says Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies (MCB/CPB) Dominic Mao.
“My first memory of Brittany is from the Fall of 2015 when she was a student in MCB 60,” Mao adds. “We had an unspoken agreement that I would only answer her questions with more questions instead of providing a direct answer…She loves the process of figuring things out and solving problems! Brittany has the makings of a good scientist because she is armed with curiosity, discipline, and strong quantitative skills.”
Petros also cites MCB 60, taught by Alex Schier and Vlad Denic, as one of the classes that sparked her interested in the relationship between molecular biology and health. Her experiences doing computational research with the Clemons and Schreiber groups at the Broad Institute and learning and teaching probability in Statistics 110 helped her develop a quantitative skill set that she intends to apply to biomedical questions.
Support from the MCB community remains essential for Petros as a developing scientist. “I would like to thank Dominic Mao and Ryan Draft, who first encouraged me to spend a summer conducting research in Lisbon; Carlos Ribeiro and his laboratory, for their willingness to host me over the upcoming year; Alex Schier and David Christianson, two professors who supported me in this and many other endeavors; and my family, for providing me with exposure to such a beautiful heritage.”
When she’s not in the lab, Petros can frequently be found running. She will be running the 122nd Boston Marathon on April 16 to raise funds for the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) Summer Urban Program (SUP) and looks forward to runs with the Nike+ Run Club Lisboa along the Tagus River. She has served as a teaching assistant for Life Sciences 1a, Physical Sciences 1, Chemistry 17, and Statistics 110, and plays the flute and piccolo in the Harvard Pops Orchestra. She is a member of the 2017 Phi Beta Kappa Junior 24 and a Harvard Amgen Scholar.