Raffaella Eleonora Tavelli

PHD Student

Raffaella Eleonora TavelliRaffaella is a PhD student at the Food Microbiology and Food preservation (FMFP) Research Unit of Ghent University. She is currently working on the topic “On-board microbial cargo of micro- or nanoplastics (MNP): Interactions, virulence and antibiotic resistance and implications for human exposure”. Her research project is supervised by prof. dr. Andreja Rajkovic and is part of the larger EU funded ImpTox Program, together with 12 partners from 8 European countries.

Raffaella first completed her Bachelor degree in Biotechnology at the University of Milan-Bicocca (UNIMIB) in 2020, with a thesis on metabolic engineering of S. cerevisiae yeast for the production of compounds of industrial interest. She then obtained a Master of Science in Applied Biosciences and Biotechnology at Imperial College London in 2021. During her MSc Thesis, Raffaella worked on the implementation of a gene drive technology for agricultural pest control, as a novel molecular biology tool to control the Ceratitis capitata medfly. Being passionate about food security and environmentalism, she started collaborating on the ImpTox project shortly after.

In her PhD, she studies the microbial cargo of microplastics and nanoplastics. Other than being polluting and toxic on their own, MNPs also seem to facilitate the growth of pathogens that attach to them, thus possibly spreading antibiotic resistance genes and lethal diseases. Hence, her project is focused on microbial interactions on MNPs, antibiotic resistance and implications for human health. Specifically, the project can be structurally broken down into 3 main parts:

Part 1: Microplastics as hotspots for horizontal gene transfer of antibiotic resistance and virulence genes in Gram-negative pathogens
Part 2: Microbial toxins on microplastics potentially triggering food and respiratory allergies and toxic responses
Part 3: Uptake and accumulation of microplastic cargo into ready-to-eat plant foods.

To explore all these fields, she covers a range of interdisciplinary microbiological, molecular and chemical approaches and methods.