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.

Visitor of the Week: Kenrick Waite

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Meet Kenrick Waite of Kansas State University. The graduate student in Jeroen Roelofs’ lab returned to the Lab for his second, consecutive ubiquitin meeting; and, just as he did at the 2017 iteration of this ubiquitin meeting, Kenrick presented a poster at this year’s Ubiquitin, Autophagy & Disease meeting as well as a lightning talk. He still fondly remembers his first poster experience at CSHL in 2017:

My poster presentation was the most useful part of the meeting for my work. I received tons of suggestions on what would make my conclusions stronger and advice regarding different techniques I could use in my research. Here is where the constructive criticism happens.

Kenrick considered his back-to-back poster presentation and shared this:

My poster presentation at this meeting was as beneficial, if not more so, than my presentation at the last Ubiquitin Family Meeting. The data I presented is novel and has never been seen before by researchers outside of the Roelofs lab or the Division of Biology at K-State. Having this group of scientist with such diverse expertise is a real benefit because they ask questions that I had previously not heard or considered. As was the case with the last meeting, these experts constructively criticized my work and offered lots of suggestions for next steps and improvements. Suggestions that will make the data stronger and its presentation clearer. I am happy I took the opportunity to return to CSHL.

We’re certain Kenrick will be back for another CSHL meeting in the future; but, for the meantime, here’s what he had to say of his participation at the 2019 Ubiquitin, Autophagy & Disease meeting:

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am interested in protein degradation and the phenotypes that arise when this fails. Currently, I study how proteasomes localization and abundance are affected by cellular stress.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
At first, I did not specifically know what I would study in graduate school. I had a general interest in cancer biology and found that proteasomes play a role in cancer survival. That drew me to this field early in my career.

How did your scientific journey begin?
My science career started in high school with a very good teacher who inspired me to learn about and understand the world at a deeper level. The subject was anatomy and physiology and having moved from Jamaica I had not had the opportunity to see this type of science before. Learning precisely how the human body carries out function was what got me hooked. I thought it was the most amazing thing in the world at the time.

Was there something specific about the Ubiquitin, Autophagy & Disease meeting that drew you to attend?
I attended the 2017 Ubiquitin Family meeting and very much enjoyed my experience. The quality of the research I saw from posters to talks was simply amazing. I also met a lot of fantastic people in the ubiquitin field and was thrilled to see them again. With the specific addition of autophagy and disease sections to this meeting, I was even more excited to attend. This meeting is an excellent chance to share my data with top researchers and take advantage of their experience and expertise.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
This meeting is a great way to get feedback on my work and to see what the top scientist in my field are working on. To see the work presented makes for a better appreciation of its importance. The ability to question the scientist either after presentations or informally at breakfast, lunch, dinner or in the hallway, really helps in solidifying my understanding.

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?
I have learned a lot about the cutting-edge research my colleagues are engaged in. Specific to my research, I have found sources for antibodies I have been wanting to use in my system for some time. Further, new techniques to study autophagy were presented which I will incorporate into my work.

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 advise any scientist who studies ubiquitin’s, autophagy and disease to attend this meeting in the future. It is a fantastic opportunity to not only see cutting edge work, but also interact with scientists who can advise your work. The people that attend this meeting genuinely care about training the next generation of scientists, and this is a perfect opportunity to get career advice and hear what these established researchers have to say. Particularly when it comes to establishing a successful scientific career.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I like that I can meet and build relationships with like-minded people in this type of atmosphere.  The Cold Spring Harbor campus is beautiful. I really enjoy the harbor and natural areas around campus.

Thank you to Kenrick 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: Jessica Rodriguez Rios

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Meet Jessica Rodriguez Rios of the University of Puerto Rico - Rio Piedras Campus. In 2016 and as an undergraduate, Jessica joined Dr. José A. Rodríguez-Martínez’s laboratory. Last year, she transitioned into the Ph.D. program and is now a first-year graduate student aspiring to obtain her Ph.D. in biology.  Jessica was recently on campus for her first course, our 2019 course Expression, Purification & Analysis of Proteins & Protein Complexes, and already “can’t wait to come back.”

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I want to figure out how multi-protein complexes recognize specific sequences of DNA to regulate gene expression. Currently, I am working on determining the DNA binding specificity of transcription factors complexes of GATA4, NKX2-5, and TBX5--all essential for heart development and function.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I first learned about the molecular aspect of biology in my genetics class and I was intrigued. Subsequently, I joined Dr. José A. Rodríguez-Martínez’s laboratory to do undergraduate research. The Rodríguez-Martínez’s lab mission is to understand how proteins and protein complexes interact with the genome using tools from molecular biology, biophysics and genomic sciences. I knew, without a doubt, that I had chosen the right path. To this day there are many aspects of molecular biology that we don’t understand. The future of molecular biology is promising, and I want to be part of this new generation of researchers that can contribute to a better understanding of molecular mechanisms in biology.

How did your scientific journey begin?
During my senior year as an undergrad, I worked with Prof. Noemí Cintrón tutoring genetics students. Her constant encouragement for me to do research was how I joined Dr. José A. Rodríguez-Martínez’s lab and got my own research project studying the DNA binding properties of transcription factors. This opportunity gave me a new perspective on what it was like to do research. Since then, I have been learning diverse laboratory techniques and sharing my research with the scientific community.  

Was there something specific about the Expression, Purification & Analysis of Proteins & Protein Complexes course that drew you to apply?
For my thesis project, I have to clone and express three human proteins involved in heart development. I applied for the course because I wanted to learn different approaches on protein expression and purification of protein complexes. Our laboratory has been facing some challenges overexpressing soluble proteins, and not having soluble proteins is a major setback and delays downstream experiments. Therefore, for us, it is crucial to have these proteins purified so we can continue our research projects. Also, I wanted to know “best practices” and troubleshooting approaches regarding protein purification.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
The instructors gave us a lot of different approaches for protein purification, and I also acquired new perspective on how to approach different steps in the process. Now, I can share it with my colleagues and apply it to future experiments. 

What is your key takeaway from the course?
That every protein is unique, and you might have to use different approaches to purify each protein. Not all of the purification techniques are going to work for a particular protein and sometimes it takes time to optimize your purification process. But that is part of research.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
Go for it. The process to apply for the course is very easy and friendly. It was an amazing experience; you won’t regret it. Keep in mind that is very intense, you are going to work in the laboratory from morning to night, but definitely is worth it. You learn a lot about different ways to express and purify proteins with different affinity tags. The course instructors Albert, Michael and Sergei were incredible. They were very helpful, they explained everything and were open to any questions. I highly recommend this course to anyone.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
Networking. The team (trainees), we all came from different backgrounds and universities. We got the opportunity to get to know each other as a family. Also, the campus is beautiful, it has a lot of green areas, a beach and beautiful trails where you can take a walk just to explore and think. 

 Jessica received financial support from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and via a NSF-PR-LSAMP Bridge to Doctorate award. On behalf of Jessica, thank you to the NCI and National Science Foundation for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Jessica 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: Parul Maheshwari

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Meet Parul Maheshwari of the Pennsylvania State University! A member of Prof. Reka Albert’s lab, the graduate student participated in this week’s Cellular Dynamics & Models meeting. And at her first meeting in CSHL, she presented a talk titled “Causal logic analysis of a dynamic model of plant signaling uncovers new, experimentally verified regulation”.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My research interests are modeling and simulation of intracellular biological networks. I am currently working on improvising a Boolean network model for guard cell signaling which models the closing of stomata in response to abscisic acid (ABA).

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I had worked on causal logic analysis of Boolean networks earlier and I was looking for an interesting biological network to apply this method to. The ABA network is one of the few networks that have a great scope of iterative experimental and simulations-based analysis and the questions currently posited with this model have significant correlation with the theoretical understanding of the underlying network structure and dynamics. Hence, causal logic analysis of the different versions of this model proved to be definitely an interesting way of understanding the biological likelihood of those model versions.

How did your scientific journey begin?
In high school, I visited the space research center in my town (Ahmedabad, India) where some of the scientists that work there showed some really amazing pictures they’d taken during their work. It actually motivated me to pursue astronomy which turned into an aspiration to pursue astrophysics. However, different courses in college changed my interests over time and led me to biophysics.

Was there something specific about the Cellular Dynamics & Models meeting that drew you to attend?
It was mostly encouraged by my colleagues who had been to this meeting in the past. They told me of how this meeting is very relevant to my work and encouraged me to attend.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
While I have been working with intracellular networks during most of grad school, the work presented at this conference made me realize the major significance, complexity and variety of cellular dynamics research. In addition, and though not a direct takeaway, this meeting made me realize that--especially as a grad student--it is highly important to be involved in research that excites you more than anything else.

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?
I learned about various approaches to model intracellular networks and it definitely encouraged me to think in a certain way to approach the research problems I am currently working on. I also met with people who are working on very similar systems as I am and I think these interactions could lead to a fruitful collaboration at some point!

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 advise that this meeting pertains to a rather specific topic of cellular dynamics and model and if their work is related to it, they’ll likely get a lot of interest and feedback here. Not only are most attendees highly enthusiastic about their own work, they are also very interested in everyone else’s work. Especially when it comes to giving a talk, your experience is a lot improved if the audience is highly interested in what you’re speaking.

This is your first meeting at CSHL - what did you think it?
This CSHL meeting itself is a lot like what I’d imagined it would be like. It is small but still full of varied presentations. I expected the laboratory itself to be more like a tall building located on the harbor but I am surprised and very pleased by the fact that this place is a lot more spread out, rustic, and integrated with its surroundings; plus a beautiful hiking trail and beach area!

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I love the location of the Cold Spring Harbor Lab--it is very serene and calming! I am also having a lot of fun talking with the other graduate students attending this meeting. We’ve found ourselves discussing a lot of non-science stuff like popular and social dynamics, politics, etc. It is interesting how I have met many other graduate students here whose major is not biology but other relevant sciences like Math, Computer Science, Physics, etc.

Thank you to Parul 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.