Lucía Pita Galána symbiosis betweenMotivationProfessional CV

Symbiosis Researcher

My research interests

I am a researcher in Marine Ecology. I am interested in the symbiosis between microorganisms and marine animals and how these interactions affect animals’ health, ecology and evolution. I also feel curious about how the populations of marine species are connected, their adaptation to a changing environment and how this knowledge can be applied for the conservation of marine habitats. Finally, I enjoy sharing this fascination for the ocean and the discoveries derived from my work with scientific and non-scientific others.

Studying symbiosis of marine invertebrates combine marine ecology and microbiology, two of my favorite disciplines. I worked in marine sponges, which allow placing our findings in an ecological and evolutionary context. They are a fascinating group of organisms and I see them as the ultimate holobiont because they harbor high diversity of microbes and it is the combined activity of the host plus the associated microbes which result in sponges’ ecological role.

During my PhD, I characterized biodiversity patterns of sponge-associated microbial communities. Through my work I learnt that these symbiotic communities are highly stable and species-specific. Since then, I am aiming to decipher the mechanisms that are ruling these interactions with a focus on the host mechanisms of microbial recognition, and this is the main topic of my research since I moved to Germany.

Curiosity and Nature

Why did i pursue a career in Science?

I was born in La Coruña, northwestern Spain, right at the Atlantic coast. I grew up surrounded by the sea. I have always loved Nature and wanted to become a biologist. I was also inspired by books, from Jules Verne’s adventures to biographies of great scientists and stories about scientific expeditions. The fact that my sister started her career as researcher in Art History made me see the scientific career as a realistic option for me. The support of my family, friends, and teachers/professors was the final boost.

Being a researcher is about looking with different eyes. Curiosity makes you pose yourself questions and find creative ways to get the answers. I love the creative aspects of my job. Science is highly stimulating because I need to keep up to date with new findings and state-of-the-art techniques. Also, I enjoy working with people from different countries and backgrounds. This diverse working environment allows me to see alternative points of view. Of course, I love the opportunities to travel all around the world. The scientific career is a continuous challenge; yet a lot of fun!

It is all connected

How did i arrive here?

When I started my Biology studies, I was inclined to pursue a research career on cell biology or microbiology. However, during the 3rd year, I had the lectures in Ecology. Ecology is the study of the ecosystems, that is, how creatures do not occur on their own but within communities, interacting among species and affected by a changing environment. Suddenly everything made sense to me! That holistic perspective is close to my way of approaching Biology. One year after, I went in Erasmus to Brest, in French Brittany, at the Institute Européen de la Mer. It was an open-mind experience both at the personal and professional level. The courses were focus exclusively on the ocean, with a strong ecological and evolutionary perspective. In addition, I had the opportunity to take part of a research cruise expedition. After that year, it was clear to me that marine ecology was my best match.

Since then, I focused on learning molecular techniques that apply to ecological questions, first in La Coruña and later in Barcelona, where I studied a Master on Ecology. I changed the Atlantic by the Mediterranean Sea and there I learnt SCUBA diving. I did my master thesis on population genetics of the edible sea urchin. I enjoyed it a lot and opened the door to start my PhD thesis at the University of Barcelona. It was back then when I started to work in sponge symbiosis!

Reaching others (teaching/outreach)

Along the way, I have met a handful of teachers, professors, and colleagues who have deeply inspired me. I would love to inspire others in a similar way, being able to communicate my passion and respect for science. Working with students is challenging, yet one of the most rewarding activities of my job.

In addition, I like getting involved in outreach activities. I closely collaborated with a high school teacher to bring the microbiome research (quite often reported in the media) to her students and, more importantly, with the aim to educate them in critical thinking. I also collaborated in Ich bin Meta, the magazine for school kids of the CRC1182-Metaorganisms. There I became a cartoon character! And I also had a talented master student who launched a pilot citizen science project.

International experience

During my PhD I visited other labs, spending 2-3 months in Napoli, in Baltimore, and in North Carolina. These visits allowed me to learn new techniques and diverse lab dynamics. These opportunities also enabled me to learn new languages, improve my English, and experience the challenge of adapting to new work environments. Since October 2014 I moved to Germany, where I have worked in two different Institutions, first at University of Würzburg and now at GEOMAR.

It’s not all about Science

My hobbies

Life is not only about work. I enjoy spending time in nature, even a short walk in the beach makes my day. And I really enjoy photography. I am mainly interested in Nature photography and the relationship between men and nature. I also like street photography because of the spontaneity. I love music (all different kinds, from opera to hip hop) and I also like dancing. In the last years, I am doing lindy hop dance. In winter time, I also spend a lot of time knitting.


2014 -PhD. Biodiversity - University of Barcelona

2010- MSc. Fundamental and Applied Ecology - University of Barcelona

2009 -BSc. Biology - University of A Coruña

Professional Appointments

October 2021-September 204: La Caixa Junior Group Leader

Institute of Marine Science (ICM-CSIC), Barcelona, Spain

April 2018-September 2021: Helmholtz Staff Scientist
GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel

November 2017-March 2018: Postdoctoral researcher at Project CRC1182-Origin and Function of Metaorganisms
GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel

July 2015-September 2017: Alexander von Humboldt postdoctoral fellow (sponsored by The Future Ocean Cluster)
GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. Academic host: Prof. Dr. Ute Hentschel Humeida

April-July2016 Postdoctoral researcher at Project CRC1182-Origin and Function of Metaorganisms
GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel

Oct 2014-Jun 2015 Postdoctoral researcher
University of Würzburg

February 2011- May 2014 PhD candidate
University of Barcelona (Barcelona, Spain). Advisors: Dra Susanna López-Legentil and Dr Patrick M. Erwin.

  • 2013  Lab visit at Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology at the University of Maryland’s Centre for Environmental Science (Baltimore, USA)
  • 2011  Lab visit at University of Napoli Federico II (Napoli, Italy)
  • 2012 - 2014  Representative of PhD students at the Department of Animal Biology (University of Barcelona, Spain)

September 2009- October2010 Master student on Fundamental and Applied Ecology
University of Barcelona (Barcelona, Spain)

2008-2009 Several appointments as undergraduate research assistant at:
University of A Coruña (A Coruña, Spain) and Laboratoire Universitaire de Biodiversité et Ecologie Microbienne ESMISAB (Brest, France).

Supervised Students and Teaching

Supervised PhD students
Lara Schmittmann, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research (Germany); Yu-Chen Wu, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research (Germany).

Supervised Master students
Theresa Kuhl, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research and University of Munich (Germany); Berta Pintó, University of Barcelona (Spain).

Supervised Bachelor students

Violeta Albacete (UAM, Madrid, Spain); Smail Ahabchane (CAU, Kiel, Germany).

2017 and 2018: Master -Advanced Course in Biological Oceanography (GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research (Germany)
2011-2013 BSc. Biology -Zoology Laboratory and field assistance. (University of Barcelona, Spain)

Discover who

Other Scientif Activities

Reviewer for > 15 journals in Molecular and Microbial Ecology such as: Applied Microbial Ecology, Environmental Microbiology, ISME Journal, Mbio, Microbial Ecology, Microbiome, Molecular Ecology, FEMS, among others. As well as for broad-scope journals such as Frontiers, Scientific Reports, and mBio.

Scientific organizing committee member at the 10th World Sponge Conference (Galway, Ireland, 2017) and the 1st CRC1182 Young Investigator Research Day (Kiel, Germany, 2017)

Member of the jury for PhD thesis - Teresa Morganti (UPC Barcelona, Spain).

Field work experience: aquaria experiments (Spain, Germany); SCUBA diving (Spain); oceanographic expeditions at R/V Cornide de Saavedra (Unibarna 0410, Ría de Vigo, Spain) and at R/V Marion Dufresne (Microsystems MD169-2008, Brest (France)-Algeciras (Spain)).

Outreach: Participation in the scientific outreach of the CRC1182-Metaorganisms “I am Meta” and the interactive poster “Digital Meta”; Citizen Science Project on Aplysina aerophoba and its grazer Tylodina perversa; Project “Yo, me, mi, conmigo y mis microbios” -Bringing the microbiota concept to high schools (in collaboration with María Poisa Fernández, CPR Plurilingüe Esclavas Sagrado Corazón, A Coruña, Spain).

Career development activities

Mentee at Mentoring program via:mento (Christian-Albrecht University Kiel)-2018

Coaching on Professional Positioning by Ute Jülly from JÜLLYS -2018

Panel Discussion on Career Planning organized by Project CRC1182-Origin and Function of Metaorganisms - September 2018

Workshop on Career Planning by Monika Clausen -March 2018

Coaching session on Strategic Planning for Research Careers by Beate Scholz -June 2017

Fellowship, Grants & Awards

2020 Young Investigator Award                                                                                        CRC1182- Metaorganisms                                                                                                                PI: Dr. Lucía Pita

2019 IMMUBASE DFG sequencing call                                                                                  Deutsche Forschung Gemeinschaft                                                                                             Project on Comparative Genomics of Marine Basal Metazoa. PIs: Prof. Dr. Ruth Schmitz-Streit, Prof. Dr. Thorsten Reusch, Dr. Lucía Pita

2019 Mobility Scholarship CRC Metaorganisms
CRC1182- Metaorganisms
Merit-based scholarship to attend the Gordon Research Seminar and Conference on Animal Microbe Symbioses (Vermont, USA).

2015-2017 Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Award for Postdoctoral Researchers
Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and sponsored by “The Future Ocean” Cluster.

2016 Future Ocean Cluster support fund.
The Future Ocean Cluster

2014 Linnean Society of London- Systematics Research Fund.
Species delineation in the sponge genus Ircinia using multigene datasets.
PI: Dr. Ana Riesgo and Dr. Lucía Pita (University of Barcelona)

2011-2014 PhD Fellowship Research Training Program.
Agency for Management of University and Research Grants (AGAUR, Catalan government).

2013 Mobility Scholarship.
9th World Sponge Conference-Scientific Committee.
Merit-based scholarship to attend the 9th World Sponge Conference in Perth (Australia).

2013 Mobility Fellowship.
AGAUR, Catalan government .
Full merit-based fellowship for 3 month-research visit at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology at the University of Maryland’s Centre for Environmental Science. Baltimore (MD, USA).

2009 Undergraduate Research Scholarship.
Spanish Ministry of Education and Science.
Merit-based scholarship for laboratory training in molecular techniques at the Department of Animal Biology, Vegetal Biology and Ecology. University of A Coruña (Spain). Mentor: Dr. Rodolfo Barreiro.

2007-2008 ERASMUS Scholarship.
European Union, Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, University of A Coruña, Bancaja Bank.
Merit-based scholarships to study an academic year at the Institut Universitaire Européen de la Mer (IUEM), Université de Bretagne Occidentale (France)

2005-2009 Bachelor Scholarship.
Spanish Ministry of Education and Science.

Conferences & Invited talks

Oral communication at the Gordon Research Seminar on Animal-Microbe Symbioses. "Microbial recognition in marine sponges". Pita L, Hoeppner M, Ribes M, Hentschel U. Vermont (USA). June 2019.

Invited talk at the Integrated Immunity in Holobionts workshop. “The host in the sponge holobiont: from patterns to mechanisms”. Lucía Pita. Montpellier (France). October 2018.

Oral communication at the Origins and Function of the Animal Metaorganism. “Expression patterns of immune receptors in two marine sponge species”. Pita L, Hoeppner M, Ribes M, Hentschel U. Magnetic Island (Australia). March 2018.

Oral communication at the 10th World Sponge Conference. “The response of sponges to microbial elicitors”. Pita L, Hoeppner M, Ribes M, Hentschel U. Galway (Ireland). June 2017.

Poster at the Gordon Research Conference and Seminar on Animal-Microbe Symbioses. “Responses of marine sponges to microbial patterns”. Pita L, Hoeppner M, Ribes M, Hentschel U. Mount Snow VT (USA). June 2017.

Keynote speaker at the International Conference on Holobionts. “Marine sponges: life in a sea of microbes”. Lucía Pita. Paris (France). April 2017

Invited seminar at the University of Viena. “The sponge holobiont: diversity, functions, interactions”. Lucía Pita. Viena (Austria). December 2016


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