From the lab to… Business Development – Mo Ghashghavi, PhD
In the ‘From the lab to…’ series, we highlight our team’s diverse scientific expertise and academic backgrounds, together with their journeys towards joining Catalyze. In this edition we met with Mohammad Ghashghavi, to learn more about his PhD at Radboud University within the field of environmental microbiology, and what inspired him to join Catalyze. Mo is a Senior Business Developer in Green & Sustainable Innovations.
Methanotrophs and farming – micro scale, macro impact
Over a four year PhD career, Mo studied methanotrophic (methane ‘eating’) bacterial community composition in rice fields. As he explains, methanotrophs play an important role in the environment:
“Earth’s biogeochemical cycles are intertwined and massively complex – and we have to untangle this complexity one small step at a time. By focusing on the role that methanotrophs play, we can start to understand how our activities (in terms of farming practices) impact their role in mitigating the release of greenhouse gases.”
During his PhD, Mo considered the impact current and future farming practices have on these important bacterial communities.
Mo explains, “Specifically, I compared methanotrophic communities in paddy fields to unfarmed grasslands and meadows to see the impact that our future farming practices will have on the emission of greenhouse gases. I also set up microcosms – or mini-ecosystems – in the lab to study how these methanotrophs will react to their environment when they receive various mixtures of gases.”
After sequencing the genome of novel methanotrophs, Mo used that data to construct phylogenetic trees and subsequently compare community structure between different environments, such as wetlands, drylands, forests, volcanic soil, and peatlands.
Insights into distinctive microbial microenvironments
Mo’s work demonstrated that within an environment like a paddy field, there are many distinct microenvironments as soil deepens.
Mo highlights their key findings: “Basically, every millimetre of soil has a vastly different composition of bacteria that perform vastly different activities. More importantly, the differing activities observed between these environments – in terms of greenhouse gas emissions or consumption – can be performed by an extremely small sub-set of an immensely diverse bacterial community.”
The results of this study demonstrated the need for more complex genetic analysis to get more detailed insights into the microenvironments, and in turn, gain greater clarity of how community composition is impacted by farming practices.
Mo explains, “In order to get a better glimpse of the methanotrophic community, we need to use a mixed methods approach such as non-targeted sequencing (e.g. Whole-Genome sequencing), together with proteomics and metabolomics to identify the key players in a community – not based on their abundance alone, but also, their activities. This will give greater insight into the impact of certain farming practices on community composition.”
Reflecting on academia and the transition to consultancy
Mo recalls his time in academia as a great learning experience, and one that shaped him into who he is today:
“My PhD gave me a great first-hand experience into how science moves forward. I had to learn the existing literature on my topic, learn where the gaps of knowledge are, come up with sound scientific hypotheses, and finally go out and carry out experiments to fill those knowledge gaps. All in all, it was a great 4 years of ups and downs that undoubtedly has had a major impact on who I am as a professional today.”
After his PhD, Mo decided the best place for him to make immediate impact was in industry, supporting innovations closer to market.
Mo points out, “Research by nature is quite slow. While a sum of many researchers’ work will eventually have a profound impact on our understanding, I wanted to look for something with more apparent impact and more short term satisfaction.
“Therefore, moving into our industry where every project that we support can have a direct impact on the future, was a very rewarding change in my career. As a plus, working with researchers also meant that I am still close to academia.”
Transition from research and working at Catalyze
At Catalyze, Mo supports clients who conduct pioneering research and develop groundbreaking technologies across the combined fields of Green & Sustainable Innovations. Mo describes joining the Catalyze team:
“Having been a consultant and a business developer in life sciences and health, Catalyze provided a great opportunity to join the Green & Sustainable Innovations team, which complemented my years of academia very nicely.
“As a Senior Business Developer, I get to enjoy having conversations with researchers and entrepreneurs in both academia and industry, to help them build up their project ideas and obtain funding for their research and development.”
Finishing, Mo considers how his foundations in academia and consultancy help him to thrive in a diverse role:
“Having already developed a solid base in the world of grants and subsidies in my previous job, together with a decade of post graduate studies, mentoring and teaching, has made my time at Catalyze a very enjoyable and fitting experience. Joining a team that also offers many learning opportunities, I am excited to see my personal and professional development at Catalyze and build the foundations for my future career.”