Matthew Simon

Research Associate, The Gorbunova Lab

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

My current research focuses on the LINE1 retrotransposon and how its activity impacts aging. These genetic elements like to make copies of themselves and stick them into our genomes, causing DNA damage and sometimes causing mutations. Recently, we’ve found that our ability to silence these elements and prevent them from running amok decreases as we get older. My work has recently shown that LINE1s can actually drive aging-related pathologies and are active contributors to the aging process, as opposed to a side effect of the aging process. My research hopes to better understand why this deregulation occurs and how we might combat it in order to help extend healthy aging.

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

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, especially if you are going to do some research in a lab. You are in the process of learning and will find that you can give what you think is a correct answer and still be wrong. It happens to everyone (even the big scary professors) and you need to start getting used to it. You will make mistakes. You will be wrong. And that will be the case more often than not. You will be on the frontier of science, where the only correct answers are those that you have tried to disprove a thousand different ways. The only true mistake you can make is not thinking about what you are doing and thus, not learning. All that being said, don’t leave the hot plates on and don’t add water to acids. 

What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned working here and/or studying biology? 

Never be afraid to ask for help or ask a question you need answered. I think too many of us suffer from imposter syndrome and don’t want to look stupid. In biology, as with most things, the answers are almost never straight-forward and the more you can learn and clarify from your professors and peers, the better chance you’ll have at solving the puzzle. We are an inquisitive species and as such, should never be ashamed to inquire.

How do you think our biology department stands out in comparison to other universities?

It would have to be the comfortable, casual nature of collaboration found in this department. If you need to borrow equipment or even want to just run an idea by another professor, you’ll never find an easier place to do so than here in the biology department. Often times, I can send an email or even pop in on someone and find a friendly mind happy to help out. It allows for a lot of good ideas to flow from one area of expertise to another and has led to some really amazing cross-discipline experiments.

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

Outside of lab, I enjoy gardening (when the weather permits) and baking. I find plants to be such a bizarre and underappreciated form of life and although I’m not a botanist, I can appreciate the fascination with our little green friends, especially their use in the kitchen.  I also enjoy a variety of crafts, such as brewing, soap making, and hunting. Not to be an absolute recluse, I also enjoy playing tabletop RPGs with friends.