Visitor of the Week: Maroof Zafar


Meet Maroof Zafar of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The Pakistani national is a postdoctoral fellow working under the mentorship of Dr. Alicia Byrd in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Maroof is with us for the Eukaryotic DNA Replication & Genome Maintenance Meeting, and his initial participation included a fruitful poster presentation on “Human DNA helicase B protects stalled forks from degradation after replication stress.” As for his experience at his first CSHL meeting? Maroof found it to be “relaxed with opportunities to socialize with your peers while also benefiting from the cutting-edge research going on in your field.”

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am interested in studying how human cells repair damaged DNA to maintain genomic integrity. My work involves investigating the role of human DNA helicases in DNA replication and repair to further understand the mechanism of DNA replication and to identify potential targets for chemotherapeutics.  

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I have always been fascinated by the complex cascade of protein networks and pathways that are involved in replicating and repairing our genomes. During graduate school, I focused on basic enzymology of human translesion polymerases and their role in chemoresistance. During those years, I grew fond of the mechanisms involved in DNA damage response pathways and wanted to explore this field further from a cellular level. 

How did your scientific journey begin?
I am from Pakistan and ever since I was in high school, I wanted to come to the United States for higher education and research. I wanted to make a difference in the community by exploring basic mechanisms that cause human diseases. As an undergraduate, I was fortunate enough to receive an undergraduate research fellowship to identify small molecule inhibitors of enzymes that cause cancer and chemoresistance. That summer research experience was the catalyst in my journey to further investigate the underlying causes of cancer.

Was there something specific about the Eukaryotic DNA Replication & Genome Maintenance Meeting that drew you to attend?
The CSHL meetings are very focused on a specific field and since I work on DNA replication and repair, it was a perfect meeting to attend to learn about the cutting-edge research going on in the field and to share my research with other scientists working on DNA replication and repair. I especially enjoyed the sessions on replication initiation, replication fork stalling and replisome structure.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
The Eukaryotic DNA Replication and Genome Maintenance Meeting is very well organized thus making it easier for the participants to make full use of their time while at CSHL. The key takeaways from the meeting are that the process of the DNA replication and repair is a very complex process--vital to human life--that involves a vast number of proteins and mechanisms; most of which are conversed from lower eukaryotes to higher eukaryotes. Although these mechanisms are well studied, there is still a lot of key questions that remain unanswered.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the meeting to your work?
This meeting was really helpful in terms of making new collaborations and learning about the new and more sensitive techniques people are using to answer scientific questions. I am also looking at collaborating with researchers using electron microscopy to study different replication intermediates, and was fascinated to learn that cryo-em technology has developed significantly over the years making it easier to understand protein structure-function at a higher resolution.

If someone curious in attending this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
This meeting is an ideal place to meet people in your field. Make the most of that opportunity by networking, developing new collaborations and attending the career development session. Ask questions about other people’s research and be open to comments and suggestions regarding your own research. 

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
CSHL is a very scenic campus quietly nestled next to a harbor and seems like an ideal place to do science. I am glad that I got the opportunity to experience life at CSHL, make new friends and develop valuable collaborations.

Thank you to Maroof 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.