“Almonteño” researcher who studies diseases like Alzheimer’s at the Laboratory of Animal Behavior and Neuroscience

After living his childhood and adolescence in El Rocio, Huelva biologist has developed this intensive research, which led him in 2011 to Nicaragua with a grant from the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development. A life experience that has been supplemented with the completion of the PhD and other projects, such as international study linking Mare Doñana marshes with Central America.

Native of Almonte, the researcher Francisco José Pérez Díaz is a onubense who is currently
working at the  Laboratory of Animal Behavior and Neuroscience at the University of Seville , while doing his doctorate in psychology in the research of ‘Learning Neuroscience and Evolution ‘. An achievement that has been the result of a path characterized by the effort, enthusiasm and desire to continue to grow a little more each day. A path that, academically, started in  El Rocio, in the Doñana Public School and the IES Doñana Almonte two centers that marked much in his character and his way of being, as living in the marshlands will conditioned in his training as an academic and as a person. Moreover in El Rocio old, very different from today.


“My father at that time was caretaker at a center for disabled, something that both my brother and me has allowed us to develop a special sensitivity to this group, while my mother was a wonderful woman with extraordinary courage, both that he was denied the possibility to study and decided to grit his teeth and try again from scratch. My memories of that time are my parents studying , because my father wanted to go to work in a cooperative as ‘interpreter of nature’, hence in my house talk about ecosystems, nature tourism, the family Medina Sidonia, Valverde, Delibes … It was all very strange, but I was with them , and with 6 years, I knew all the scientific names of the fauna of Doñana -can give a good account my grandmother, had knowledge of the ancient inhabitants park, traditional uses, and even I began to know the management of marismeño cattle, being an activity that was taking place at home,  to have an extra financial support in a very precarious family finances “recalls the young.

In addition, the figure of his mother has been instrumental in shaping his personality , considering that she is a great example of overcoming, because, as he recalls, “because of family problems, because his father ill, you have to leave school, and that always accompanied her spine. It was here in El Rocio where he finds the opportunity to attend adult school and enroll in English classes, all that attached to his job as a receptionist at the Hotel Toruno, then newly built part of the AMPA, the women’s association, the neighbors … and not only stayed in the Graduate School, but got access to college and decide to make a career. So my mother was key because she is a woman with extraordinary force, which has managed to instill in my brother and me. Because what we are, not us has been given. Moreover, I daresay, for the circumstances and the context in which we live, has cost us twice as anybody. ”

All this allowed ‘Capea’, as they know the young man’s friends and neighbors of Almonte, witnessing the transformation that has taken Contemporary Doñana , especially following the launch of the Andalusian Cooperativa Marismas del Rocio which involved  the transformation of the town through ecotourism, communion of livestock uses and marshes, uniting tradition, culture and environmental conservation. Values that this researcher learned from childhood in El Rocio, although to study had to move to Almonte, with all that it entailed.

With effort, Francisco José Pérez was overcoming all obstacles and choosing a career, it decided on Biology, for which he went to the University of Seville, where after continued doing a  Master in Advanced Studies in Brain and conduct and currently performs Doctorate in Psychology , as we have noted. A baggage that we wanted to know first hand through this interview.

Francisco, why you choose to study biology? How did your interest in this subject arises?
For Incredibly, Biology career was not my first choice. At that time, I would have preferred me started on International Relations, Tourism and Anthropology … Keep in mind that I was a child of 92 and lived the opening of Spain to Latin America , so it has been something that has caught my attention from always. First because my mother when I was little I refused to participate in the Ruta Quetzal and that’s the worst thing you can do to a Capea, “say you can not do something.” And second, the beauty inherent journey as a transforming vector, without forgetting the role of Huelva in the most important milestone in the world, which was the discovery of a new continent. In addition, the village of El Rocío has been destination for people coming from far away and, through them, surfaced in me my infinite by Saber curious … why academic priori choice was not biology, because I wanted to experience traveling , knowing and leave the village.

Nevertheless, the years have been the best race of my life to date. Opened before me a very wide range of opportunities that allowed me to see new places, new people, new opportunities … And the University of Seville who allowed me to travel to Central America, thanks to which in 2011 was granted a scholarship by the Spanish Agency International cooperation for Development (AECID) as a member of ‘Strengthening the Department of Plant Biology of the National Autonomous University of Leon (Nicaragua) UNAN-León’ project. An experience that became for me a whole personal catharsis, as can be seen in the book that we published in 2013 under the title A Pie Mangrove . A trip that saw fulfilled a dream I’d had for a long time, besides having the opportunity to collaborate with a group of international cooperation of great prestige, which was complemented by a development academically, since we also bid participate as faculty in the Master of Plant Physiology. 

How was that experience in Nicaragua?
‘In that first trip we were asked to help support community projects of Salinas Grandes and Las Peñitas,  collecting samples in Isla Juan Venado, samples would be processed later in the city of Leon (Nicaragua), which also we imparted the Masters. And, just inside the community of Salinas Grandes, I understood that in this life nothing is coincidence. Because I felt I had come to El Rocío 70s, that they were talking about my grandparents. And I explain. Salinas Grandes is on the edge of a nature reserve, Isla Juan Venado. On the other hand, is a coastal town called Las Peñitas Nicaragua -the Matalascañas early 70s And if that were not enough, both communities depended on Leon, a colonial city with a fierce and extremely welcoming Maria devotion. So it was like being in Doñana, Almonte, El Rocío and Matalascañas in Central America. And this time, the stranger was me.

Once there, they joined many mixed feelings. Because for me and my family it has not been easy, but has not lacked self – esteem and gratitude to who has reached out to us, so I thank those who trusted us today so that I can have a doctorate. So I felt the need to continue the cycle, acting trainer to energize and guide the kids in these Nicaraguan communities, presenting a conservation model that worked very well in Doñana through ecoturismos . All with the idea that these communities were developed by exploiting the Isla Juan Venado by nature interpretation and research and furtiveo thereby preventing the felling of trees and collecting turtle eggs.

However, it was not until the following year, in 2012, when I led a cooperation project on the ground, funded by the AECID, whose aim was to export the Ecoturístico model Doñana as Strategies for the Conservation of Mangroves in Pacific Coast Nicaragua and the development of their communities . A project that we carry out with the help of the University of Seville and UNAN-Leon, as well as local NGOs, the Foundation Friends of Rio San Juan (Fundar) and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Marena) of Nicaragua. A job that was crystallized in the First National Congress of Mangroves, which I was promoter, partner and participant, in addition to fulfilling the tasks as a teacher of Master of Plant Physiology UNAN-León. However, in 2013 they closed all funding stream, forcing us to stay mortgaging of that year to organize as NGOs, creating the NGOs ‘Entreraices’ and seeking self – funding, because we refused to scupper such a long work. That’s why we wrote the book Walking Mangroves. And although this year we could not go, I never lost contact with them. Moreover, thanks to these contacts, I continued to work in the future.

What form has continued your relationship with Nicaragua?
One of the actions we have developed is the ‘project to strengthen the area of Neurosciences at UNAN-León Nicaragua, and support research groups CEVEDI and CIDS’. A step in a much more ambitious longing, because my most immediate concern is to make possible a Masters in Neuroscience Nicaragua, with the participation of local research groups and our university. While within the amalgam of projects to be developed with the Faculty of Medicine-Veterinary result of my experience in livestock farming is the plan called ‘La Yegua Marismeña, the oldest equine link in Central America’,which aims datificar historical, physiological and genetic parameters of this stud to correlate with those obtained in the stud of Doñana marshes.

It is an ambitious project that I am leading, and has a commitment to the Nicaraguan academic authorities. Its aim is to strengthen international relations and a future twinning between municipalities, as was initialed on August 26, 2015 in a ceremony attended by Dr. Alvaro Jose Chavez Silva, Professor of Veterinary Anatomy and Embryology, Dr. Alan Peralta, now co-director of the faculty and professor of Ethology, Ethnology and Animal Identification and Dr. Rubén Carballo, professor in Genetics. A project that is already known in Almonte, since it was introduced on June 28 this year at the First Conference Monograph of the Yegua Marismeña ‘Marismeño Cattle Key Science’.

What relevance does this international project?
His importance to Huelva is maximum. It should be borne in mind that the onubenses marshes not only house the oldest European bloodstock, but our approach is to complement this milestone by genetic testing, to assert that besides the marismeña mare is the mother of the native stud Central to coincide with the celebration of the 525 anniversary of the discovery of America, giving a capital Huelva notoriety in the international equestrian world.

What goals have you marked this work?
I , currently meeting at the beginning of the course, in my last year of PhD, so to track so many different projects is complicated. Still, I keep in touch with the professionals who carried out both in the area of neurosciences, such as veterinary, historical, cooperation, disseminators, and so on.

Because, with all this, you’re researcher at the Laboratory of Animal Behavior and Neuroscience. What is your role in this center?
When I finished the race I joined one of the most productive laboratories knew, despite having little promotion. It was the Laboratory of Animal Behavior and Neuroscience,with which I acquired a compromise because of the versatility in research, the ability to accommodate new ideas and the support and assistance he felt for processing. It was a rare laboratory in which very little material science in case a neuroscience laboratory integrating behavior, biochemistry, histology, drugs and animals are made. And that was in psychology, something the Andalusian scientific community know. It was in this small center where I started, because a spatial restructuring within the School of Psychology, following which he became one of the most important laboratories of the University of Seville, containing the first order.

Specifically, the  Laboratory Animal Behavior and Neuroscience has facilities for electrophysiological recordings, surgery, machinery datificar behavior, a living microscopy, Histological detinciones, biochemistry … in regard to my work inside the lab, I dedicated to the area of neurosurgery Modular for decrypting the functions of different brain areas involved in the consolidation of habit and therefore processes adherents to different types of learning, including additions and phobias. That being the case, I have experience in neurophysiological recording, intracranial surgery or injury modular blocks, intracardiac perfusion dissection of organs, tissue processing, staining and microscopy for Versed research in the Analysis of Biological Correlates of cognitive-behavioral animal processes, and more specifically in rats.

The interest of our interdisciplinary group is to know the route -dopamine different neurotransmitters, serotonin, GABAergic, etc- and understand the role of different brain modules and how they work together with the aim of understanding diseases such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia , Parkinson, depression, ADHD or addictions. Because, in our laboratory, we are dedicated, among other activities, to the Comparative Psychology , which is to replicate the neurodegenerative disease or some characteristic thereof in an animal that serves as a biological substrate, refine therapies, detect biomarkers, advance cure or palliative and, ultimately, to export refined and adapted protocols to the hospital community with the disease.

What are you working in this area?
A early last October I participated in the XXVIII International Congress of the Spanish Society for Comparative Psychology(SECP), exposing recent studies of prefrontal cortex, their involvement with controlled processes and their direct functional relationship with the basal ganglia to address issues such as attention, learning and memory. And, from the beginning, we have always tried to be present in the most important national and international conferences on this subject, as has happened with the  Spanish Society of Neuroscience (SENC) and the Federation of European Ceuroscience Societies (FENS) , among others. Currently, my training in biology leads me to update the methodologies and protocols used in our laboratory to treat behavioral issue from protein expression. For this reason, this year, my regular activity in neurosurgery injury, desaferenciaciones and modular blockades, will be complemented with a proteomic datificar registration and biochemistry underlying the behavior.

Do you have a specific project of interest?
The most immediate project is the completion of my doctoral thesis. In this training period I am taking up issues left somewhat parked as promotion seminars and lecture series whose main actor Huelva and to involve associations and centers disability to integrate them into a network of collaboration scientific advances. I also want to start my short – term multidisciplinary research project called ‘Emotional Interspecific Transfer’ and validate therapies in patients with animal attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, mental deficiency or psychological disorders.

With the implication that you samples Huelva, do you think that onubenses value and are aware of the wealth of the province?
Local or provincial -the awareness is an issue with which I have a special feeling and I think, sadly, no, that onubenses are not only aware, but we do not know all the wealth of Huelva. And what is not known, it is not valued. And what is not valued, not defended.

Today, I think we have better trained generation. I know it’s not new, but we have onubenses leading international scientific projects , research groups participating in revolutionary projects of scientific, technological, informative, clinical and business level … Now that begins to surprise. And it is that this province has a big problem: it continues to seek out excellence. He is unable to recognize success among its neighbors . Why it is so important to start promoting Huelva in key science , to begin forging a civilian pride in their scientific researchers. Only then get change speculative, opportunistic and comfortable working patterns towards a model of effort, improvement, soaring curricular background, so that these scientists and top academics to return to their province, preventing leakage of local brains. They are proud and prophets in the land. With this motivation, shared by scientists, technicians, extension workers and researchers from Almonte, we decided to create the  Association for the Advancement of Science in Almonte (AFCAL) , an organization that I have the honor of presiding over the desire to promote academic excellence, provide assistance and be a reference to give a breath of encouragement and recognition to the work of its scientists.

With this philosophy, what would be your final message? 
I’d like to lend my support to anyone who decides to pursue science, in addition to thanking the informative work that you carry through this forum. I invite you to know the association and its components AFCAL firsthand. I hope I have aroused your curiosity, the same as a child from the village of El Rocío tries to revolutionize the pillars supporting the study of the brain and human behavior.



Francisco José Pérez a almonteño researcher who studies diseases like Alzheimer’s at the Laboratory of Animal Behavior and Neuroscience November 15, 2016




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