Dr. Alfredo Castello

By Mariela Cortés López

Dr. Alfredo Castello is a group leader at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research. Dr. Castello studied at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain and started his research career in the lab of Dr. Luis Carrasco, investigating how RNA and DNA viruses interplay with the host translational machinery. From that point on, his fascination with viruses grew, and then it expanded during his postdoctoral studies at Dr. Matthias Hentze’s lab, where he contributed to identifying the universe of RNA-binding proteins (RBPs).

Currently, his group develops approaches to study the composition of viral ribonucleoproteins and their dynamics in virus-infected cells. Dr. Castello and his group want to identify key RBPs, which could facilitate the development of novel antivirals: “I am very excited about finding such an antiviral, which could be used as a first-line defense against emerging viruses and potential pandemics.”

A notable example of the relevance of his work came up in the early pandemic days, where his team, together with Dr. Shabaz Mohammed and Dr. Ralf Bartenschlager generated the map of protein-RNA interactions in SARS-CoV-2 infected cells and discovered many potential druggable candidates which his lab currently explores in detail. Dr. Castello foresees more successes to emerge as a result of new collaborations established between RNA biologists and virologists.

“While ‘ups’ are often good enough to compensate for the ‘downs’, one must learn to balance. With a positive attitude and good colleagues around, things tend to work out at the end.”

Yet, as he puts it into words, “a career in science is a long-distance race with many ‘ups’ and ‘downs’. While ‘ups’ are often good enough to compensate for the ‘downs’, one must learn to balance. With a positive attitude and good colleagues around, things tend to work out at the end.” Dr. Castello has experienced several challenges throughout his career, which impacted his path in science. For instance, after his first postdoc year, his results were not promising, and nothing seemed to work. Nonetheless, inspired by the discussions with his supervisor and colleagues, he became more perseverant and identified the source of his problems, which massively improved his work. Another difficult time he experienced later was during his time as a junior PI, when he had a period with grant rejections that put his resilience to proof. However, he kept trying, and at the end it worked up.

Dr. Castello’s PhD and postdoc supervisors have been key in shaping him as an RNA scientist. He recalled the determination and resilience of Dr. Luis Carrasco, who, after having lost his sight, continued working with passion and eventually discovered the cause of his own disease. Later on, he learned many things from Dr. Hentze, including thinking “big” by not being afraid of the challenges and staying focused. Even though Dr. Castello is no longer in the Hentze lab, he said that he still receives mentoring and encouragement from his former postdoctoral mentor.

One key point for success that Dr. Castello highlighted is the “importance of having good colleagues and collaborators. He said that “the RNA community helped him a lot to expand his network and meet collaborators all around the world.” One memory from past RNA Society meetings that stands out for Dr. Castello was the seminal talk from Dr. Adrian Krainer after receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. Dr. Castello said he often uses Dr. Krainer’s work on lectures to illustrate the impact of basic molecular biology on society.

Dr. Castello had a good time as a rock guitarist. Still, as a profession he has chosen science because he enjoys building hypotheses and feeling the adrenaline boost after getting exciting results. When asked about his favorite RNA, he said: “My favorites are viral RNAs because of their functional plasticity and adaptability.” You can follow Dr. Castello’s work at @Castello_lab, @Alf_Castello or on his lab website: www.castellolab.com and https://www.gla.ac.uk/researchinstitutes/iii/cvr/staff/profiles/catelloprofile/#