Daniel Martinez Molina SU alumni and Head of Research and co-founder of Pelago Bioscience AB.

Hi Daniel, What made you interested in nutrition? 

- My high school teacher in biology was the one who first made me understand how fantastically complex nature is. He wanted his students to understand everything from how the citric acid cycle spun to life in a compost. During a lab about energy consumption in the human body, I became interested in what, how and why things happen.

Why did you apply for a Bachelors programme in Nutriton?

I got tip about the programme from the same biology teacher, as he noticed how I was passionate about the subject. At that time, there were only twelve seats on the programme, so I had to fight to get in. The year I started, the number of spots had increased to 18. We were a great bunch of students who had a strong common interest in nutrition. However, we were quite clearly divided into those who thought public health nutrition was most interesting and those, like me, who preferred molecular nutrition.

"Pretty soon I realized that a solid basic education was necessary to really understand what, how and why processes take place in the body"

What did you think of your studies at SU?

The studies at the different universities were different both in feeling and content. Stockholm University was responsible for the first part of the programme and for me it was a change on several levels. It was the start of my university studies and not only did I move from my childhood home but also to a big city. It probably contributed to that Stockholm University feelt both huge and part of a new adventure. - I remember struggling a bit with motivation during the chemistry studies of the first year, I wanted to jump straight into the subject of nutrition and not read about orbitals. But pretty soon I realized that a solid base in chemistry was necessary to really understand "what, how and why" and not just learn what processes take place in the body by heart. 

What did you think of your studies at KI?

When we switched to studying at Karolinska Institutet, we spent time both in Solna and Huddinge. For me, it was incredibly cool to be able to take with me the knowledge from Stockholm University and understand how chemistry was behind what we read about in, for example, human physiology or during the course nutritional status. If Stockholm University was responsible for the big and exciting, Karolinska in Huddinge was a little smaller and familiar. Familiar in several ways - in those corridors I also met my future wife. The education extends over many subjects. 

What did you like most and why? 

I was very thirsty for knowledge and got aha-moments all the time. During the first course in biochemistry, it felt like the right one and when I read human physiology I wanted to completely re-saddle and become an anesthesiologist. After studying nutrition, I wanted to start my own company and help athletes get into top shape. However, I never got caught up in epidemiology or courses on public health nutrition.

Was there any opportunity during your studies that was decisive for your future choice?

There were plenty of such, but if I have to choose, it was when a professor of biochemistry, Pär Nordlund, showed what proteins look like. How to determine its structure and then understand its function. After that, there was no turning back.  In almost all the body's and cell's processes, it is proteins that do the work. The advanced courses in biochemistry gave me more of this and with structural biology I was able to understand in detail "what, how and why" - a recurring theme for me. 

How did you start with research?

Pär Nordlund also offered me the opportunity to do my degree project in his group - it was great. It was followed by a doctoral position and I was very happy. During my doctoral studies, we moved to Karolinska Institutet, but I was still associated with SU and that was where I defended my dissertation four years later. In my doctoral work, I had managed to determine the structure of "my own" protein and was the first person to see what this particular protein looks like. A powerful feeling,

What do you do today?  

Today I am the head of research at a company that I founded. We started the company eight years ago, as a spin-off on an invention from our academic research. The method we invented and developed makes it possible to measure how, for example, drugs or toxins interact with proteins in cells. Our method is one of the few that can detect such interactions without having to intervene in the cell or modify the substance being examined. The method can also be used in other areas such as the plant industry to study the effects of insecticides on crops. We also see signs that the method can be applied in healthcare to understand side effects caused by various drugs or to stratify patients. 
In what ways do you benefit from your chemistry studies in the career you have chosen? 

Chemistry is there in the background, sometimes I have to dig deep into my organic chemistry knowledge to understand the results we get. Other times it is statistics we learned during  epidemiology. All the labs we did during my studies are also with me. It's been a long time since I was in the lab myself, but the understanding of how to set up an experiment and analyze the results also comes from the years at university. 

What is the best and most challenging part of your profession?

The best thing is that I get to discover new things! With our method, we look at the cell in an unfiltered way. This means that we often get results that are completely new. Sometimes our results may also explain observations made and reported by others in the literature. I have also been involved in building the company we run today and have a fantastic group of colleagues who really work towards the same goal. 
I feel like I am learning new things every day and it is very satisfying. At the same time, it is my big challenge because I have to prioritize hard so as not to dig too deep where I stand. 

What are your plans for the future?

I am working on establishing a postdoc program at our company - an opportunity for PhD students to come in and do basic research with and around our method. This in collaboration with academic expert groups in the Stockholm and Uppsala area. I am also very much looking forward to focusing on clinical applications of our method, something that I think can be very exciting! - The company is growing and in the future,  we will move into new, larger premises. Not entirely new to me, these are the same rooms I spent my doctoral studies in, so in some sense some things are coming full circle for me.

Name: Daniel Martinez Molina

Age: 41

Do: Head of Research and co-founder of Pelago Bioscience AB