Getting to know us: Gabriela from Ensembl Regulation

In February, we talked to Gabriela Alejandra Merino from the Ensembl Regulation team. Before joining EMBL-EBI, Gabriela worked on protein function prediction. She is now involved in producing regulatory annotations for Ensembl. Outside of work, Gabriela is very active and participates in swimming competitions. Read on to get to know Gabriela and her work.

When did you join and what is your job in Ensembl?

I joined Ensembl in November 2021 as a bioinformatician in the Ensembl Regulation team. My work primarily aims to ensure we produce high-quality regulatory annotations for different species that can be trusted by the community. For this, I work on both improving our bioinformatics pipeline and developing strategies to perform quality assessment not only in the data we analyse but also in the results we produce and share as part of Ensembl.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

I enjoy a lot of things related to my job! First of all, working with such talented and nice people not only in my team (they are awesome) but also across the whole section. I enjoy the dynamic we have that allows us to meet both personal and general aims. More related to my job, I really like to regularly face new challenges like incorporating into our analyses new species or new experiment types, that push me to learn and gain new skills.

A photograph of Gabriela visiting the castle of Mora de Rubielos, a small town in the province of Teruel in Spain.

What did you do before joining Ensembl?

My background is purely in academics in my country, Argentina. After my degree in Bioengineering, I did my PhD mainly working on developing statistical methods for analysing transcriptomics (RNA-seq data). I also participated in different projects analysing other high-throughput data (GBS, Amplicon sequencing, etc). After that, and before joining Ensembl, I did a postdoc focused on the automatic prediction of protein functions by developing deep learning models. In parallel, since my later degree years, I have been always involved in teaching, first as a student assistant and then as a professor of subjects like advanced calculus, statistics, and bioinformatics with R.

What inspired you to pursue a career in computational biology / bioinformatics?

Since primary school, I loved both biology and math and was then in high school where I ended up amazed by the DNA and its power. Motivated by this, and also limited by the options I had, I chose Bioengineering as a degree, and this is when I discovered computer science. In the latest year of my degree, I was convinced I wanted to do a PhD but I still felt I needed more DNA around me and this led me to the bioinformatics world. It wasn’t easy because I had to learn a lot of ‘basic’ things by myself (and I’m still doing it!) but I always try to keep in mind that if I want something, perseverance and working hard will get me there, so here I am!

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Outside of work, swimming is my favourite activity. No matter how cold, rainy or sunny is outside, it is always the first choice. I also like to attend some strong gym sessions that help me to improve my resistance and power. Swimming for me is a combination of relaxing and at the same time, progressing and self-improvement because I always follow a programmed training session and check times to measure my performance.

Two photographs of Gabriela after swimming 4.5 km at Cruce de las Arañas 2024, an open-water swimming competition in Diamante, Argentina.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

I love travelling anywhere! I really enjoy visiting new places, going around small roads in remote towns, and swimming in the local culture.

However, if I could travel anywhere in the world, I don’t have any doubt that my destination will always be my home country, Argentina. I would like to go there just to enjoy the simplest and best things like a full-family asado (veggie for me!), a card-games round during a rainy day at my parents’ home, a picnic and fishing beach day with my family and dog, a lovely afternoon catching up with friends and of course, accompanied by our Argentinian mates.