People

Visitor of the Week: Alzbeta Dostalkova

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Meet  Alzbeta Dostalkova of the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague (Czechia). She is part of the lab of Dr. Michaela Rumlová within the Department of Biotechnology. The PhD student is at CSHL for her first-ever meeting – Retroviruses – and she immediately felt “professional and intimate environment to meet and discuss research with colleagues” for which CSHL meetings have become well-known. Alzbeta also presented a poster entitled “Quantification of stability effect of polyanions on assembly and disassembly of retroviral particles” that was met by many and produced many friendly and helpful discussions.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
Generally, I am focused on the steps closely related with the assembly of retroviruses such as HIV-1 and M-PMV. I am working on uncovering the mechanism of viral genomic RNA incorporation to the assembling particle and next phase of my study is newly stability of the particles, especially of the core.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
When I started to study, protein-RNA interactions was a very cool topic in the retrovirological world, so my supervisor and I decided to keep the focus on this theme.  And I really like it.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I have always wanted to help people and I thought that synthesis of drugs would be the right path for me So, at the university, I started studying the biotechnology of drugs. But then after a few months, I became interested in HIV-1 and the problems connected with this retrovirus. When I found out that I can be part of the lab studying HIV-1 and directly help to fight against it, I knew I found my goal.

Was there something specific about the 2019 Retroviruses meeting that drew you to attend?
I have dreamed of participating in this conference for years because it is attended by many of the retrovirologists want to meet. To read their papers and then have opportunity to meet and discuss with them their work is something I very much appreciate. The atmosphere at this meeting is that of a real retrovirological conference.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
I have heard a lot of very interesting lectures – by Akhil Chameettachal, Thomas J. Hope, Alan Rein, and Chaoyi Xu in particular – which will help me in my research.  In addition, the chance to meet others in my field. The world of retrovirology is full of very interesting and well-known researchers who  are also very nice people.

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?  What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?  
I found out more facts about IP6. For example, IP6 plays a role during the trimerization of matrix domain of HIV-1 and IP6 promotes the dNTPs import. Moreover, the nucleocapsid domain contains the interfaces critical for Gag dimerization. I have also heard a few crucial facts about gRNA incorporation, uncoating etc.

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
Go. Definitely. This is a prestigious conference which gives more than you expect. The data presented are high-level and excellent, and participating in the CSHL Retroviruses meeting helps ensure you are doing your retrovirological research correctly. And, to some degree, this meeting has a certain “cool factor” that rubs off on you.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I like to walk here because it is beautiful! It is also a great setting for socializing and I have enjoyed talking with new and old friend.

Thank you to Alzbeta for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Jonathan Trujillo

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Meet Jonathan Trujillo of the Rudolf-Virchow Center for Experimental Biomedicine (Germany). The Colombian national is a PhD student part of the GSLS (Graduate School of Life Sciences) of the University of Würzburg and member of Dr. Grzegorz Sumara’s lab. Jonathan made the transatlantic voyage to participate in his first CSHL meeting – Mechanisms of Metabolic Signaling – where he presented a poster entitled “Protein Kinase D2 promotes intestinal fat absorption and contributes to diet induced obesity”. Jonathan’s poster presentation “went very well [with] lots of questions and suggestions. [He’s] happy to see how people liked [his] project. It provided a personal and academic boost.”

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I work in the investigation and characterization of kinases involved in the development of metabolic diseases. Most of my work focuses on kinases regulating important processes in intestinal fat absorption and adipose tissue biology.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Metabolic diseases are widely spread and research in that specific area is necessary in order to understand and help to improve many conditions. I find it fascinating, and at the same puzzling, how the crosstalk between organs maintains the body’s homeostasis and misregulations can significantly affect quality of life.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I studied Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of Antioquia in Colombia and I started working immediately after graduation. I liked my job very much, however, I knew I wanted something more. I wanted to be directly involved in the process of making the discoveries that enabled the development of the pharmaceuticals I was producing. I moved to Germany to pursue my Master’s degree and it was then that my interest in metabolism began. Luckily after successfully defending my thesis, I was offered a PhD position in the same group – an opportunity I didn’t hesitate to take.

Was there something specific about the Mechanisms of Metabolic Signaling meeting that drew you to attend?
The CSHL meeting in Mechanisms of Metabolic Signaling is very well-known. It received very good recommendations from people I met in other conferences and even from my own boss and colleagues (who have attended before). I had someone high expectations of the meeting and in the end it is better than expected.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
Collaborations and maintenance of a good scientific network are of great importance if you want to make the best out of your research projects. I think it is very evident that in such a diverse field of research you need people from different backgrounds to increase the scope of your discoveries. This meeting is a great opportunity to listen and speak with speakers who would otherwise be very hard to meet. Topics involving gut microbiota, brown adipose tissue and fat mobilization are my favorite but, in reality, I have enjoyed every talk.

What did you pick up or learn something from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?
I knew that my project was in need of microbiome analysis and I got some really good recommendations that I will pursue.

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would totally recommend it. I have had a great time here. Actually, before coming I had wondered if I would feel comfortable coming alone but the social atmosphere is great and there are plenty of opportunities to socialize and talk about science or many other topics. This is a great opportunity for anyone no matter his/her scientific career stage.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The meeting is very well planned: The days are busy but they don’t feel crowded or exhausting. Accommodation and food are great, and everything is geared to help meeting attendees be in a good mood. Of course, I would also agree with everybody else’s sentiments that the Lab’s location and surroundings are fantastic.

Thank you to Jonathan for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Rahul Pisupati

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Meet Rahul Pisupati of the Gregor Mendel Institute of the Austrian Academy of Science (Austria). The PhD student in Magnus Nordborg’s lab made the voyage to participate at his first-ever CSHL meeting: The Biology of Genomes. And his inaugural voyage also involved a poster presentation. His poster (entitled “Elucidating causes of methylation variation in Arabidopsis thaliana”) received “many constructive comments” and Rahul is already considering his return to the Lab.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am a computational biologist by training and my research interests are at the intersection of quantitative genetics, population genomics and epigenetics. Currently, I am working on population epigenetics in Arabidopsis thaliana, trying to understand various sources shaping methylation variation in natural populations.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Since college, I have always been eager to learn new theories in evolutionary biology. It is really fascinating how principles in population genetics can be extrapolated to understand any group dynamics (even social groups). To some level I wanted to work on some of the exciting questions in the field.

How did your scientific journey begin?
It started during my masters when I went to Dr. Nolan Kane lab at Boulder, Colorado for a summer research position. We had very engaging journal club discussions on classical papers in evolutionary biology.

Was there something specific about The Biology of Genomes meeting that drew you to attend?
Attending this meeting is a great opportunity to share and get feedback from brilliant minds. Also, it is one of the biggest meetings with a focus on population genomics and current technological advances in the field.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
All the talks are excellent, aiming at recent advances in the field. It is very hard to hone in on one takeaway message, but there were many informative talks bridging the gap between genotype and phenotype and single-cell genomics.

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you’d like to apply to your work?
Yes, I had many constructive comments on the poster I presented. Also, it feels great to meet people whose papers you were reading.

If someone curious in attending the 2020 iteration of this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would definitely recommend they attend this meeting. Submit an abstract for the opportunity to present your work and get the attention of editors of every big journal you know of.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
CSHL is an amazing campus promoting social life along with scientific advances, and provides one to easily retreat into nature. The events were well-organized and each received a huge level of participation.

Thank you to Rahul for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Maggie McCoy

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Meet Maggie McCoy of Syracuse University. The first year graduate student is a member of Dr. Melissa Pepling’s lab and is about to embark on a new lab project that will require the analysis of large genomic data sets. She came down to Cold Spring Harbor for her first CSHL course – The Genome Access Course – where she participated in an intensive two-day introduction to bioinformatics and the various tools available to her and her work.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am interested in reproductive biology, specifically how female eggs (oocytes) develop. Women have about 6-7 million eggs while they are in-utero, but before birth women will lose about 2/3 of their eggs and this decline continues throughout development. Our lab studies this phenomenon in mice. Female mouse germ cells undergo a series of incomplete cell divisions resulting in clusters called cysts. Soon after birth, mouse germ cell cysts break down into individual oocytes to form primordial follicles. During cyst breakdown, a subset of oocytes in each cyst dies by programmed cell death with only a third of the initial number of oocytes surviving. The long-term goal of our work is to understand the mechanisms that regulate cyst breakdown, and why this early oocyte loss occurs.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
My mother had children at an older age, and now that I’m studying reproductive biology, I realize how fortunate my mother was to be able to have children when she was ready. Sometimes I think women feel biological pressures to have kids while they are younger because reproduction can become much harder later in life and egg loss increases with age. Males, on the other hand, can constantly produce sperm throughout their lives. This biological dilemma was what drew me to reproductive biology research.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I was always interested in science; constantly begging my mom to let me mix cornstarch and water because it made such a cool dynamic mixture. In high school I took AP chemistry with an awesome teacher who really pushed us to understand the material at a broader level, and how we would apply this. For my final project in that class I synthesized polymer strings from two different chemicals and was able to collect these “strings” and braid them. Watching something physical and 3D be made from solutions was incredible.

Was there something specific about The Genome Access Course that drew you to apply?
I am starting a new project in the lab that will look into how anesthesia administered to a pregnant subject may affect the germ cells of the offspring. I will need to analyze genomic data with bioinformatic tools. Our lab doesn’t often work with large genomic data sets, so I thought this course would be a good introduction into genomic work.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
I learned a lot about available bioinformatic tools that will help me with my work; such as ENSEMBL, Encode and galaxy that can used to analyze data. Before this course I didn’t know many of these sites existed or how to access them.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
There is so much research that can be done from genomics work, and there are so many tools to help you analyze your data. One of my biggest takeaways was that because there are so many tools available, it can be hard to know which genome browser you should use, or what filter to set. While this is true, the instructors emphasized that I shouldn’t be afraid to play around with different data sets and see how different analysis tools work because the only way to become comfortable with bioinformatics work is to practice.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
Definitely take it! Even if you have never worked with genomic data before, don’t be scared. This course will introduce you to so many bioinformatic tools and allow your research to grow.   

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The campus was breathtaking. I had never been to Long Island before, and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory did not disappoint. It was a great opportunity to connect with other people from different backgrounds and see how we are all using genomics and bioinformatics in very different ways.

Thank you to Maggie for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Taizina Momtareen

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Meet Taizina Momtareen of West Virginia University. The PhD student in Jen Gallagher’s lab is currently participating in her inaugural meeting at CSHL – Telomeres & Telomerase – where she presented a poster entitled “Investigation of helicases, exonucleases and TERRA non-coding RNAs in telomere maintenance”. 

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am investigating the function of the Y’-Help1 helicases expressed from the subtelomeres. I am interested in seeing if they share functional homology with Sgs1, and if they interact with TERRA RNAs to promote recombination.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
In my first semester, I came across a few papers by Virginia Zakian and Raymund J. Wellinger that sparked my interest in the field of yeast telomere biology.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I was always interested in science. From making a 3D solar system to learning about the technologies used to solve famous forensics cases, I have loved every science assignment that I worked on. Thus, my interest in science developed from a very young age. Moreover, my biology teachers and professors and their passion for science inspired me to pursue a career in research.

Was there something specific about Telomeres & Telomerase meeting that drew you to attend?
The opportunity to meet and learn from the people whose ideas are revolutionizing the field of telomere research.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting? 
Many dynamic new models are challenging the current concepts on when and how telomerase works.

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?  
I attended the Meet the Speakers luncheon where I met and spoke with Dr. Vicki Lundblad who said “Don’t take decisions based on the norms. Your PhD should be for yourself, not for others”. I would keep this advice in mind whenever I feel overwhelmed by the pressures of grad school.

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would definitely recommend s/he get to know fellow scientists and their research before attending the meeting because there is a lot to learn from them and there will be even more to learn once at the meeting and you are able to speak with them face-to-face.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I love the impeccable blend of nature and science in this campus. The beautiful structures of different biomolecules across campus add a lot to the aesthetics of this place!

Thank you to Taizina for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.