Visitor of the Week: Jessica Rodriguez Rios


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.