Sergio Grinstein: "I have been accused of switching topics often, flying from flower to flower like a greedy bee..."

Five minutes with Sergio Grinstein, PABMB Lecturer at the 44th FEBS Congress in Krakow.
Sergio Grinstein: "I have been accused of switching topics often, flying from flower to flower like a greedy bee..."
Sergio Grinstein is currently working at the Hospital For Sick Children in Toronto and has been Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto since 1988. He is interested in the cell physiology and biophysics of innate immunity, particularly phagocytosis and host–pathogen interactions. He completed his PhD at the Centro de Investigacion y Estudios Avanzados in Mexico City, and was a post-doctoral fellow at the Hospital For Sick Children in Toronto, and the Department of Biochemistry at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Sergio Grinstein was an International Scholar of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a recipient of the Medical Research Council Distinguished Scientist Award and of the Michael Smith Award of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

What drew you to your research field? 

Serendipity; I started out pursuing a totally different question and encountered multiple technical and logistic difficulties that nudged me gradually in a different direction and yet again into a third field as time went on. I cannot claim that I planned my career the way it has developed, but rather tried to adapt to the available resources and the questions that seemed amenable at the time. I have been accused of switching topics often, flying from flower to flower like a greedy bee, but I much prefer that to banging my head endlessly against an intractable problem.   

What do you consider the most formative phase of your research career? 

Definitely my doctoral training. My supervisor and mentor, the late Dr David Erlij, had an encyclopedic knowledge of physiology (he called my ignorance equally encyclopedic!) and the ability to connect concepts across disciplines. He instilled in me the love for science, taught me how to approach questions in a disciplined and rigorous way, and infected me with his politically incorrect humour.  

Can group leaders still find time for hands-on research? 

I don’t believe that group leaders can or should try to find time for hands-on research, unless they work in a field that requires unique dexterity that they have acquired over many years and is hard to confer to others, or if they are in search for occupational therapy. I find that my time is best invested in planning and trouble-shooting experiments jointly with my trainees (trying to teach them my approach to science in the process), learning the latest advances and techniques (which continue to increase at an exponential rate) and dealing with the dreaded and inevitable administrative chores (which, regrettably, also continue to increase at an exponential rate).  Moreover, there is little I can do at the bench that students and fellows don’t do much better and faster!   

What roles in the scientific community beyond your own research group do you see as most important?

While I am engaged in editorial work and in the operation of scientific societies like the Panamerican Association for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, it is the preparation and assistance I can provide to young scientists to succeed in their careers that is, by far, the most fulfilling part of my career. The result is life-long friendships – an international family of scientific “relatives”. 

Pure or applied research? 

There is no applied research without pure research and nothing to translate if there is no language spoken. I find the pressure to become ”translational”, a pandemic, will halt and harm progress. The notion that applicable results must now be forthcoming quickly because the genome was decoded a few years ago is profoundly short-sighted and reveals a parochial and naïve understanding of biology. 

Introduction to Sergio Grinstein's work

Research summary

Sergio Grinstein has devoted his career to investigate two areas: a) the regulation of intracellular pH and b) the innate immune response, with particular emphasis on the molecular basis of phagocytosis. His laboratory has made progress in both areas by combining novel fluorescent probes targeted to defined subcellular compartments with advanced imaging methods. Together, these approaches have enabled the detection, tracking and quantification of specific ions and signaling molecules, contributing to our understanding of organellar ionic homeostasis and of the molecular basis of phagosome formation and maturation


Two recent/key papers:        

Yeung, T., Gilbert, G.E., Shi, J., Silvius, J., Kapus, A. and Grinstein, S. (2008) Membrane phosphatidylserine regulates surface charge and protein localization. Science 319, 210–213, doi: 10.1126/science.1152066  

Freeman, S.A., Goyette, J., Furuya, W., Woods, E.C., Bertozzi, C.R., Bergmeier, W., Hinz, B., van der Merwe P.A., Das, R. and Grinstein, S. (2016)  Integrins form an expanding diffusional barrier that coordinates phagocytosisCell 164, 128–140, doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2015.11.048        

More information on the PABMB plenary lecture at the 2019 FEBS Congress

Sergio Grinstein will deliver the PABMB Lecture at the 44th FEBS Congress in Krakow, Poland on Wednesday 10th July 2019 on ‘Imaging phagocytosis: receptors, integrins and the cytoskeleton’:

Top image of post: From Sergio Grinstein, showing a macrophage engulfing a fungal (Candida) hypha.

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