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Orchestration of the immunological synapse (Dr. Adai Colom, Biofisika Institute)

Scientists who have been invited to speak at the 2022 International Symposium on Chemical Biology are leading experts in the field with years and even decades of experience. But this event will also bring together many early-stage researchers who make up the future of this field. Amongst these, we are excited to host two emerging scientists that have recently set up their own labs. In this article, we introduce one of them: Adai Colom, group leader at the Biofisika Institute in Bilbao, Spain. We were curious to find out what aspects of his identity as scientist have helped him get to where he is today. We spoke to past and present colleagues of Adai to find out.


Adai Colom’s talk at the 2022 symposium will discuss how his group aims to understand the role of membrane mechanics and protein dynamics involved in different cellular processes, particularly in the immunological synapse, e.g. the nano-scale gap between T cells and antigen presenting cells, but also during viral infection, and embryogenesis. Adai has adopted approaches that use and combine a wide range of systems (in vitro to embryos) and techniques like HS-AFM and Fast-FLIM.

While discussing with Adai Colom’s former supervisor, Prof. Aurélien Roux, he shared that Adai “was not afraid of changing directions completely.” Adai had worked during his PhD with high-speed AFM for applications in biology, whereas as a postdoc in Geneva “he completely changed and moved to fluorescence imaging of chemical dyes using a technique that was not even in the lab before”. Adai was “able to lead two projects at the same time: reconstitution of dynamin with High-speed AFM and FLIM with cells” – he combined FLIM, in vitro and in cellulo data. This demonstrates Adai’s tremendous versatility, which is an important skill in science, as “if you don’t take the risk to try, you never get fruits out of it.”

Adai Colom’s former Roux lab colleagues, Pau Guillamat and Joachim Moser Von Filseck, and current lab members, also shared their admiration for Adai’s perseverance and versatility as a scientist.

His ability of making scientific research a beautiful, funny, and meaningful game is great! Always staying positive and optimistic, being versatile and persistent, Adai plays with lipids, cells, glass plates and microscopes. Adding creativity, generosity and openness to the mix makes Adai a very complete scientist. Everybody wants to play science with him!” shares Pau. Joachim further comments that even if at times “Adai was certainly frustrated”, “he never even thought about giving up. With his creativity and insight, and sometimes pure will, he got things to work. I found that very impressive!”.

Today, as a group leader, Adai’s “perseverance and ability to create wide-ranging networks have been crucial to get his lab through its first steps” shares Andrea Merino, PhD student in Adai’s lab. In fact, “the project he proposed is really ambitious and motivating” but what has been decisive is the way Adai “thinks a group should work, where each member of the group has the freedom to propose solutions to the different problems that the group is working on and where cooperation and good working environment are crucial.”

We can learn a great deal from Adai and his way of approaching science. His perseverance, his genuine will to collaborate, and “his way of approaching experiments and techniques with no fear and wanting to learn“, have been a recipe for success. Most importantly, “Adai is not only work or science, but also sport, fun, friends, and family, and he has managed to stay loyal to all of these aspects over the past years. This is not always been easy. Science makes us often sacrifice some of the most beloved parts of our lives. When this happens, it is crucial the lab remains a healthy, positive, and chill place to work in. For this, people like Adai are essential in any workplace, especially at the leading edge“, shares his friend and former colleague Pau.


More about Adai Colom

Adai Colom completed his PhD in Structural Biochemistry in 2013 at the Aix-Marseille University, during which he contributed to the development of a high-speed atomic force microscope (HS-AFM). In 2013, he moved to Geneva, Switzerland, to work in the lab of Prof. Aurélien Roux as a postdoc, where he first worked with HS-AFM to study membrane remodelling during cellular trafficking. Adai then switched to optical microscopy and, in collaboration with other members of the NCCR Chemical Biology, he helped develop the mechanosensitive probe Flipper-TR. Adai recently set up his own lab in the Biofisika Institute in Bilbao, Spain, where he has combined his expertise of Flipper-TR and his curiosity for membrane mechanics with the aim of better understanding how membrane tension and remodelling contribute to the immunological synapse and viral infection.


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