The Spotlight series was created in 2009 as a way of building camaraderie in our department and as a way of communicating our unique departmental culture to prospective students and visitors. Featuring current graduate students, postdoctoral associates, technical staff, and administrative staff it showcases the broad interests and talent of our many department members. In April of 2015, we launched our first online version.
I work in the Ghaemmaghami Lab. Our laboratory studies the mechanisms of protein folding and degradation within cells. My research uses isotopic labeling and mass spectrometry-based methodology to quantify proteome dynamics and elucidate the selectivity of different protein degradation pathways and how cells maintain proteome homeostasis under different conditions.
From the beginning I have been fascinated by science, an interest that was supported by my parents, particularly my mother. One Christmas when I was about five, my parents gave me two books, one entitled “Geology” and the other “The World Around Us”. They were far beyond my reading level, but I was captivated by artists' renderings of erupting volcanoes and pictures of Devonian trilobites, dinosaurs, early birds and mammals. When an older cousin or an adult would offer to read me a story, I would often opt for a few pages of those two books. The launch of Sputnik in 1958 by the Soviet Union really got me interested in astronomy and I spent a lot of time picking out constellations in the night sky and building model rockets. A few years later, I was given a Gilbert chemistry set for my birthday. I spent so much time in the kitchen doing experiments from the exercise manual that my parents decided to buy me a much larger set containing a beam balance, alcohol lamp and a few test tubes and about an ounce each of about 30 different chemicals. It was a lot of fun until I took the enamel off my mother’s kitchen sink (at least I was the one who got the blame for it). Soon after, my mother bought me a compound microscope. I had a few prepared slides that were kind of cool, but looking at pond water and soil samples was just amazing. I think the gift of that microscope was the thing that really got me interested in biology.
I am part of the research group of Dr. Benoit Biteau in the medical center. We use fruit flies as a model to understand how adult stem cells maintain proper tissue homeostasis. In most adult tissues a complex network of genes maintains a fine-tuned balance between stem cell proliferation and differentiation in response to external stimuli. We are trying to understand how different genes affect these processes. Currently I am working on a highly conserved transcription factor, directly involved in stem differentiation and indirectly regulating stem cell division.
I’m a computational biologist, and I work on building thermodynamic models of RNA secondary structure. RNA is central to life, because it can carry genetic information, act as a template for protein synthesis, and catalyze chemical reactions. These many capabilities lead to the idea of an early “RNA world” where RNA perhaps represented the first primitive life. Moreover, it is also now known that in modern cells, RNA performs a variety of critical biological functions besides encoding proteins.