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#IAmScience Beatriz Praena Garcia

Photo by Cara Penquite | Bond LSC

Art and science are often considered opposites, but Beatriz Praena Garcia sees overlap.

“I think in this job you need to be very artistic,” Praena said. “I have a basic methodology to do the essays … then I read a little bit online. You can search in another paper and do some research to see how you can apply it to your work. You can be more creative, so it’s not always the same.”

The postdoctoral researcher studies influenza vaccines in the Henry Wan lab, tackling them from three angles. She works to improve vaccine effectiveness by growing it in different types of cell lines and eggs. She also works to improve mouse model systems for her lab and studies the influenza virus receptors.

Beatriz Praena Garcia looks at epithelial cells through a microscope in the Henry Wan lab. Since Praena studies respiratory illnesses, she analyzes epithelial cells from lung lining. Photo by Cara Penquite | Bond LSC

Praena worked on antivirals for herpes before coming to Mizzou, and the switch to vaccines was a welcome change for her.

“I always wanted to study vaccines. . . there are a lot of antivirals already in the war against viruses. I want to give something [new] to the community,” Praena said.

Praena  started in the lab right out of high school in a two-year technical training program where she worked in a biology lab.

“In high school, I was not a very good student, so when I finished high school I didn’t go to the university directly,” Praena said.

Once exposed to the lab, Praena knew that was where she wanted to be.

“I realized this is good for me. My score was very high in the class, and I said, ‘Oh, I will try to go to the university,’” Praena said.

Beatriz Praena Garcia shows boxes storing viruses and vaccines. They are stored at minus 80 degrees Celsius for long-term preservation. Photo by Cara Penquite | Bond LSC

Growing up in Spain, Garcia attended Autonomous University of Madrid for undergrad where she started research on herpes antivirals and its receptors. She stuck with that research for the next eight years, working in the same lab for her masters and Ph.D. studies.

Praena came to MU at the height of the pandemic in 2020. She had to gain a special visa, which she also worked on in the Wan lab during the pandemic. After accepting the position at MU, Praena remembers consulting a large map on her wall to find the landlocked state of Missouri.

“At the beginning it was complicated because when I accepted the position, I didn’t know where Columbia, Missouri was,” Praena said.

For Praena, finding passion for her work is vital to her success.

“You need to be a hard-worker, and you need to have a lot of resilience, because in academia you will never be rich, and you have to work a lot,” Praena said. “So, the first thing you need is to love your job [and] the science.”

Beatriz Praena Garcia shows a tube containing a flu vaccine stored in a freezer in the lab. It took Praena six months to produce the vaccine. Photo by Cara Penquite | Bond LSC

Her hard work translates to outside of the lab where she competes in triathlons and bikes trails in Columbia.

“I like to take my bike to the trails. I like the Katy Trail, the MKT Trail and I went to the Ozarks,” Praena said.

Praena and her husband also camp and explore different states. Over winter break, Praena took advantage of having two weeks off and traveled to Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma.

Praena enjoys Columbia and traveling in the U.S., but she hopes to one day return to Spain and have her own lab. While in the Wan lab she works to improve her research skills and develops project ideas.

“You always have to ask ‘why’ and ‘how,’” Praena said.


Article originally published on Decoding Science.