A new transcriptomics expert joins Genevia: Maria Liivrand

This December, our tech team welcomed two new scientific project managers, one of whom is Maria Liivrand! Maria has a broad experience of both bulk and single-cell transcriptomics and has enjoyed life as a hybrid researcher, working with both wet-lab experiments and bioinformatics. Much to the pleasure of the Genevia team and clients, she is now starting in a role where she can best combine her bioinformatics knowledge and interpersonal skills!

Maria Liivrand was born to a family of academics; both her grandfather and father are professors, so the path to a university-level degree was the standard in her family. Since biology had always interested her, she chose environmental management and planning for her bachelor studies at Tartu University, in her home country of Estonia. Maria’s journey to bioinformatics was a bit of a chance encounter, as the passion for systems biology was awakened in a bird ringing trip in Luxembourg. During her time there, she heard about a new master’s degree program at the University of Luxembourg, which seemed to provide a more holistic approach to how biology, mathematics and physics bind living creatures together. Her grandfather, a geographical economist, had taught Maria to look at the environment as a holistic system where everything is connected – and now she could take that thinking to a molecular level.

The bird ringing trip to Luxembourg resulted in Maria Liivrand staying there for seven years. For her master’s thesis study, she used a bottom-up systems biology approach to study the role of microRNAs in adipocyte development. As she had the opportunity to do the wet lab experiments with the cells, perform measurements with the likes of PCR, and then construct a differential equation model from the collected data, she was quickly becoming a true hybrid scientist who knew her way around both in vitro and in silico laboratories. The same study topic allowed Maria to continue her studies as far as the doctoral school level and finalize the initial master’s thesis project. Her second project then took a top-down approach using a novel RNA sequencing technique (global run-on reaction coupled to sequencing, GRO-seq) to measure the microRNA levels in the adipocytes and resolve how these microRNAs are encoded from the genome. Since finishing her doctoral thesis, Maria has gained more experience in bulk and single-cell epigenomics and transcriptomics working with models of mesenchymal cell development, atherosclerosis, and leukaemia, to name but a few examples. For most of her career, she has been working in “two-frontier” research groups: working – or training PhD students – in the wet lab and then analyzing the resulting raw sequencing data.

To our delight, Maria Liivrand is now joining Genevia Technologies as a Scientific Project Manager. What convinced her to take the step from academia to the private sector was the possibility of contributing to sustainable science while utilizing her strengths most efficiently. She believes that the clear advantage in a company like Genevia is in its structure; the collective complementary expertise of the staff makes it possible to run multiple projects simultaneously and efficiently. This also what she sees as truly sustainable science: for a non-computational group to delegate large-scale data analysis to a team of experts in order to help save valuable resources such as time and cost. Maria is a highly organized person who enjoys well-planned projects and values good communication skills – in other words, Maria was made for the role of project manager!

Bringing new perspectives from the world of systems biology and microRNA research, we are excited to have Maria Liivrand joining our team! Maria has always felt connected to nature and she spends a lot of her free time outdoors. Volunteering with bird ringing did not only lead her towards systems biology but also flew her to the Peruvian rainforests for a break after her master’s thesis. She got to work there as a field officer, taking blood and parasite samples of the birds. Wandering around the rainforest is something she has been longing to do again ever since she got back from that trip, so for all the biology research groups in the South American continent – we definitely have one project manager eager to have a few meetings at your premises!