I did my graduate work under the tutelage of Dr. Rosemary Stuart in the Department of Biological Sciences Department. My project was focused on understanding how mitochondrial ribosomes are assembled and function in a yeast cell. The mitochondrial ribosomes are important for the synthesis of proteins that are essential for cellular respiration, the defect of which can cause mitochondrial disorders. Towards this goal, we identified a novel subcomplex of ribosomal proteins that is not fully assembled yet stable in nature. We published this work in the peer-reviewed journal EMBO reports in September 2011 and I also gave a short talk on this finding at a scientific meeting focused on mitochondrial biology. This work was well appreciated in the field of mitochondrial ribosomes since our findings suggest that there might exist other subcomplexes of ribosomal proteins, identification of which may enlighten new ideas about the assembly order of proteins in mitochondrial ribosomes.
Being a graduate student at Marquette University was a great experience as the small community provided the opportunity to approach faculty members with ease for scientific discussions and their suggestions. In addition, the graduate students were encouraged to attend scientific meetings and workshops and I was fortunate to get funding from our department and graduate school to attend a workshop at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and also present my work at various scientific meetings.
The close mentor student relationship has trained me well to pursue my independent scientific career. Currently, I am a postdoctoral scholar at UCSF in Jayant Debnath’s lab where I plan to study the role of autophagy proteins in mitochondrial homeostasis in eukaryotic cells using yeast as well as mammalian cell lines as the model system. Coming from a lab where thinking critically and thinking about the big picture was an objective has helped me a lot to learn things faster in my new environment. In the future, I am looking forward to understanding the birth and death of mitochondria and how these processes may affect mitochondrial-based diseases.
My project, under the guidance of Dr. Allison Abbott, is aimed at addressing the question: What are the individual functions of microRNAs in the nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans? microRNAs are ~22 nucleotide RNAs that play critical roles in development and disease. Worms lacking individual microRNA genes, in most cases, develop normally.
In order to identify functions of microRNAs I examined the phenotypic consequence of loss of individual microRNAs in a sensitized genetic background. With this approach I was able to identify functions for 25 microRNA genes. I have presented this work at two scientific meetings and published this work in Current Biology in 2010.
This paper was the featured paper on the Current Biology website, had a commentary published at the same time written by Victor Ambros (a leader in the microRNA field), and was mentioned in a Nature Reviews Genetics “In Brief”. This work identified a role for the mir-51 family of microRNAs in developmental timing of the worm. I have since been characterizing the role of the mir-51 family in the developmental timing pathway as well as other microRNA-dependent pathways in C. elegans. This work will give us insight into the biologically significant targets microRNAs regulate in animal development. After defending my thesis, I hope to gain a postdoctoral position where I will continue to study animal development.
Eventually I plan on conducting scientific research in an atmosphere much like the one here at Marquette University, where teaching excellence is as important as research excellence.