Scientific research is an important aspect of my life. Thanks to Science, humans learned so much about Nature and improved their lives. However, there is a downside given that many discoveries were used inappropriately. Remember, for instance, about nuclear weapons and exposure to leaded gasoline. Irresponsible human activities have led to accelerating climate change, heavy metal pollution in soil, and microplastic in our food. We have only one planet and we need to protect our Earth for ourselves and for the benefit of our children.
My name is Filip and I have a peculiar surname, Pošćić (I bet you can't pronounce it correctly). Those strange symbols are not simple accents but diacritical marks making different letters from “s” and “c” in the Croatian alphabet, and with no equivalent sounds in English. I would write an approximate pronunciation as “Poshtjitj” or [Poʃtɕitɕ] (according to the International Phonetic Alphabet). The letter š is pronounced similarly to “sh” in “shell”, and ć as if you would pronounce “y” in “yellow” by holding your mouth as to say “t” in “tap”. It’s complicated, I know, and I am fine if you will write “Poscic”.
As a child, my father gave me a book about Nature as a gift. I was a little small to fully understand that book at the time, but I enjoyed looking at the figures and I fell in love with the amazing beauty of natural landscapes and the biological variation. I soon decided to work in and for Nature. At that age I didn’t fully understand what does it means to work “in and for” Nature but I guess I accomplished my dream: I am a UofA post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Prof. Dr. Alicja Babst-Kostecka, in the Environmental Science (https://environmentalscience.cals.arizona.edu/) doing my best to 1) educate people to preserve nature and reduce pollution and 2) studying the amazing metal hyperaccumulator plants that can clean the soils from heavy metals. I will now write a few more words about hyperaccumulators.
Metal hyperaccumulator plants are only approximately 0.3% of the total plant species in the world and they can accumulate extraordinarily high concentrations of one, two, or three specific heavy metals in their leaves. To name a few of these outstanding species: Arabidopsis halleri, hyperaccumulating both zinc and cadmium; Biscutella laevigata, hyperaccumulating thallium; and Noccaea caerulescens, hyperaccumulating zinc, cadmium, and nickel. The listed metals, often commonly but erroneously called heavy metals, are present in large quantities in mining and surrounding areas making a toxic environment to other living beings, including humans. The amazing feature of hyperaccumulators is we could use these plants for cleaning up metal-contaminated soils that are unsafe for human life and agriculture. However, there is a problem: these plants are very small and, therefore, to effectively clean the soils you would need biomass plants, like the perennial switchgrass. As such, switchgrass is not a hyperaccumulator, but research is focused on understanding the metabolic pathways of hyperaccumulators and properly modifying biomass plants. The icing on the cake, biomass plants could be converted to biogas and metals could be extracted from residues gaining additional money (this is phytomining!).
As you could understand from reading so far, I am really into the physiology and ecology of plants, and I do not skip genetics and evolution! I studied at the University of Trieste (Italy) where I obtained my master’s degree in 2007 on nucleotide diversity in coding and regulatory genomic regions of maize. After a research project on metal tolerance and ecological characterization of Biscutella laevigata populations, I obtained the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Ecology in 2012 at the University of Udine (Italy) with a short stay (6 months) at the Free University Amsterdam (The Netherlands). From 2012 to 2016, I worked at the University of Udine and was awarded financial support for young scientists in 2013 for research on cerium toxicity in plants. From 2016 to 2019, I went back to my home country and worked at the Institute for Adriatic Crops and Karst Reclamation in Split (Croatia) and at Ruđer Bošković Institute in Zagreb (Croatia) on soil-plant interactions and nutrient deficiencies, and trace element toxicity in olive trees. I was also honored in 2019 by receiving the most prestigious and competitive European fellowship, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie individual fellowship in Prof. Dr. Ute Krämer Department of Molecular Genetics and Physiology of Plants at the Ruhr University Bochum (Germany). Have a look at my former research https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/845234 where I was investigating the variability in hyperaccumulation of zinc and cadmium between individuals of the same Arabidopsis halleri population.
At the beginning of January 2022, I finally started working at the University of Arizona, and currently, my research is focused on plant adaptations to soils with high metals as well as collaborative projects on physiology and ecology. We are a young lab growing very fast and we like to collaborate with you! I am also particularly thirsty for knowledge in biostatistics. I developed early my wish to learn more about applied statistics because I found very often scientific publications with statistics misconceptions that lead to wrong conclusions! Research has always been at the heart of the development of human society. Every fundamental step for humans started from a little research, from a little idea. Every single datum obtained by researchers is necessary for the future to gain knowledge. If data are wrongly analyzed or interpreted this can be a recipe for a disaster.
If you would like to know more on how plants can clean toxic soils or discuss any of the above topics do not hesitate to contact me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), Twitter (@FilipPoscic), or Instagram (linkedin.com/in/filipposcic).
Each month we'll feature a Postdoctoral Scholar and their research, sharing their experiences from the UA, life in Arizona and their research interests.