Nicholas Macoretta

Graduate Student, The Gorbunova Lab

You work in a laboratory.  What are you currently researching?

I work in the Gorbunova lab, so my general interests lie in aging.  Now, there are many different aspects to this generalized process, so I have to narrow my focus when asking questions about aging organisms.  So I focus on the epigenetic components of aging organisms.  I am particularly interested in histones, the proteins that form the primary organizational unit of DNA organization (the nucleosome).  These proteins have several isoforms, variants, and post-translational modifications that seem to change during aging processes.  These affect DNA organization and chromatin overall.  If I had to summarize what I study in one sentence, though, I would say that I am interested in how a long-lived rodent species, the naked mole rat, maintains its epigenetic memory during aging processes compared to short-lived species, such as the mouse.  

What was it that originally sparked your interest in biology?

I was actually unsure if I wanted to study biology as an undergrad until my first cell and molecular biology course.  I was completely fascinated at all of the processes that happen in the day-to-day of each individual cell.  The realization that every cell in every living organism is so intricate and so complex that it could be analogous to its own world is what sold me on wanting to study biology.  Of course, my interests have grown the more I have learned. 

What do you enjoy most about working here at the U of R?

I really enjoy the atmosphere.  Everyone seems so invested in their research and their students' success.  I also really like the interplay between the department and the medical center.  Coming from the biochemistry program, most of my committee members are still at the med center.  In some ways, I get the best of both worlds, though walking back and forth during the winter is…less than ideal!

What advice would you give to prospective students looking to study in our department?

I would tell them to take some time during their graduate rotations to think about the questions that they would like to ask in biology.  One of the advantages of this program is the incredible diversity of each lab’s interests, so it can be a bit overwhelming if you are unsure, at least in general, about what your own interests are.  Everyone here will want you to succeed, so utilize your rotation period and the professors you rotate with to help you determine it yourself!

How do you unwind when you’re not in the lab?

I enjoy a wide mix of nights and weekends exploring around the city and nights in to spend with myself.  During the winter, I mostly spend nights in either reading or playing video games with friends.  During the summer, I like to take walks or short runs around my neighborhood and meet some friends for a quick bite or a beer (or two!).  Any season, I am also known to binge-watch a Netflix show from time to time and will hardly ever say no to going to see a movie.