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Form leading to function at the subcellular scale (Dr. Rita Mateus, MPI-CBG)

The 2022 International Symposium on Chemical Biology will feature novel and exciting research in the field of Chemical Biology. Scientists who have been invited to speak are leading experts in the field with years and even decades of experience. But this event will also bring together many early-stage researchers – from master students, PhD students to young PIs – who make up the future of this field. Amongst these, the NCCR is excited to host two emerging scientists that have recently set up their own labs, Rita Mateus and Adai Diego Colom. We were curious to find out what aspects of their identity as scientists have helped them get to where they are today – and we spoke to past and present colleagues of Rita and Adai to find out. In this article, we start with Rita!


Rita Mateus – Form leading to function at the subcellular scale

During her talk entitled “Form leading to function at the subcellular scale”, Rita will touch upon the project that she started during her time as a postdoc in Geneva. She will focus on her current research aims: to understand the process by which zebrafish can camouflage by creating structural colours and reflections at the cellular level. In short, Rita’s group utilize a novel quantitative approach that employs optical microscopy to study the specialized pigment cells of the zebrafish, the iridophores. Iridophores are guanine crystals of a particular size and shape that reflect light through their lattice organization. Rita aims to uncover how the crystal’s morphology is controlled to enable the shininess of the zebrafish and its efficient camouflage. This project is one aspect of her current work on growth and shape acquisition from organ to organelle, as a joint group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics and the Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life in Dresden, Germany.

While discussing with Rita’s past colleagues, they shared that her “positive state of mind, amazing creativity and infinite curiosity”, have been the perfect combo for her to succeed as a scientist. Her true interest in science also meant that Rita was always “on top of all the new updates on literature in her field”.  This fact helped her develop and nurture the project on structural colours in zebrafish. This innovative project will combine work from physicists and biologists, and Rita’s “social skills and interest in other ones’ research” will be the crucial basis to thrive in such cross-disciplinary context.

Not only are we curious to find out more about her research, but we also certainly have a lot to learn from young group leaders like Rita – “her research projects represent a challenging task that will enlarge our general knowledge on how nature is amazingly well organized”.


More about Rita

Rita Mateus completed her PhD in the lab of Prof. Antonio Jacinto at the NOVA University of Lisbon, where she worked with the zebrafish caudal fin to study how the fin regenerates its shape and size. Curious to learn more about what drives morphogenesis, she went on to do a post-doc in the lab of Prof. Marcos Gonzalez-Gaitàn at the University of Geneva. Here, Rita worked on two main projects using the same model organism. The first project focused on how morphogens control organ growth and the second project on how size and shape are controlled at the subcellular scale. In the latter project, Rita aimed to unravel how structural colours in the zebrafish fin can be regulated at the subcellular level by physics and biology together. Rita is now a group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics and the Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life in Dresden, Germany.


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