People

Visitor of the Week: Bevin English

cshl-visitor-bevin-english

Meet Bevin English of the University of California, Davis. The postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Renée Tsolis’ lab is at CSHL for her first meeting: Microbial Pathogenesis & Host Response. Here is what she has to say of her first experience:

So far, this meeting is going more or less as I expected, which is great because I had pretty high expectations. I’ve been able to really get to know scientists in my field and hear about their latest results in a really beautiful setting.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
Generally speaking, my research interest is host-pathogen interactions, with a particular focus on intracellular pathogens. Right now I’m investigating how different types of host cells respond to infection with Brucella abortus.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I became interested in intracellular pathogens specifically during graduate school, when I studied Histoplasma capsulatum under Dr. Anita Sil at UCSF. That was when I started to really appreciate the intricate interplay between the pathogen, which has evolved various strategies to manipulate the biology of the host cell in order to survive inside of it, and the host, which then has to evolve strategies to counteract the pathogen.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I’ve always been interested in science, even as a kid, and I became fascinated by infectious diseases in particular when I was in middle school. I had my first research experience as an undergraduate with Dr. Karen Hales at Davidson College, and after that first experience as an independent investigator--designing, executing, and interpreting my own experiments--I was hooked.

Was there something specific about the Microbial Pathogenesis & Host Response Meeting that drew you to attend?
There was a flyer advertising the meeting outside my lab, and when I saw the list of presenters, I was immediately impressed by the caliber. I chatted with my PI and colleagues who had attended the meeting in the past, and they had nothing but good things to say about it, so I decided to attend.

What is your key takeaway from the Meeting?
There are two sides to every story in host-pathogen interactions, and a lot of people, myself included, tend to stay in their comfort zone. But I’ve talked to a lot of people who emphasized that it’s important to go where the science takes you, and there are always people with more expertise who are willing to help you out.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the meeting to your work?
My research project has shifted to immunometabolism, which I don’t have much experience in. Fortuitously, the second talk of this meeting was focused on metabolic reprogramming during infection and showed that a metabolite produced by the host affected bacterial pathogenesis by acting as a signal rather than a nutrient. It’s changing how I think about my results.

If someone curious in attending this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would definitely tell them to attend. In addition to fascinating presentations on various aspects of pathogenesis from a wide range of microbes, there are ample opportunities to interact with high quality scientists at all stages of their careers, allowing you to get input on both your science and your career development.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I have really enjoyed catching up with friends.

Thank you to Bevin 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: Maroof Zafar

cshl-visitor-maroof-zamar

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.

Visitor of the Week: Emily Biernat

cshl-visitor-emily-biernat

Meet Emily Biernat of Oakland University. The first year PhD student in Dr. Chhabi Govind’s lab is on campus taking part in her inaugural CSHL meeting, Mechanisms of Eukaryotic Transcription, as one of its 350+ poster presenters. Emily’s poster, entitled “The RSC complex coordinates with histone acetyltransferases to regulate chromatin structure and transcription genome-wide in Saccharomyces cerevisiae,” was visited by so many of her fellow meeting participants that “[her] throat went hoarse from speaking too much.” Her first experience of presenting a poster at an international meeting was productive, with “a few even [offering her] new ideas and strains to add to [the] future directions with the project.” As for her thoughts on her first CSHL Meeting? Here’s what she said:

I thought it would be a bunch of scientists getting together to strictly discuss their findings, but I discovered that this meeting is so much more than that. It’s an event where people from all walks of life can come together and make new friends, and share ideas that they are wildly passionate about. I will definitely be attending future meetings.

And we look forward to welcoming Emily again in future iterations of our Mechanisms of Eukaryotic Transcription meeting. Here is the rest of our interview.

What are your research interests; and how did you decide to make this the focus of your work?
My research involves studying how the RSC complex in budding yeast remodels the nucleosomes that package DNA into chromatin using MNase ChIP-seq, and subsequently how mutations in RSC affects chromatin remodeling, interactions with other transcription factors, and transcription. I knew I wanted to get into the field of either genetics or genomics ever since high school. I was curious about RNA interactions with other factors and epigenetic changes within populations. Studying chromatin remodeling allows me to investigate certain epigenetic roles involving histone dynamics and to study the effect this has on the production of various RNAs, such as snRNA. This focus allows me to study all of my scientific interests.

How did your scientific journey begin?
My scientific journey began when I was quite young, at about six years of age. My dad was into science himself, and bought me books on astronomy. I went through those books over and over again like how a kid always runs back to the ice cream truck for more. I always did well in school, particularly in the areas of math and science, so I was always motivated to learn as much as I could in school. I initially wanted to be an astronomer, but I figured out in my high school physics class that physics and astronomy were not the right paths for me. However, around the same time, I had a biology teacher who received her Master's in genetics, and was very passionate about the subject. I quickly became infatuated with genetics myself, and the rest was history.

Was there something specific about the Mechanisms of Eukaryotic Transcription Meeting that drew you to attend?
What drew me to the meeting were the vast amount of talks on RSC, SAGA, and how those factors initiate transcription in yeast. Also, world-renowned yeast genetics researchers such as Dr. Steven Hahn were attending the meeting, and I was eager to hear them speak.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
My key takeaway from the meeting is that the study of the mechanisms of transcription is a field more intricate than any new graduate could ever imagine before attending the meeting, and that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of smart, dedicated researchers all working to solve tiny pieces of the puzzle that is transcription.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the meeting to your work?
I have learned about several methods that I would like to employ in my work. Cut and Run is much less time-consuming, less expensive, and more sensitive than ChIP. I would like to integrate cut and run into our lab’s workflow to use as a preliminary screening for mutants with the desired chromatin remodeling defects associated with RSC that we wish to explore further before we perform ChIP.

If someone curious in attending this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would tell the person that if they have a love for transcription or translation and wish to get into the field, that this is the meeting to attend.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
When I return home, the one thing that will stick with me the most is all of the new, friendly people that I had the pleasure of meeting. I finally got to put faces to the people I have emailed to request strains and protocols, and I must have made at least a dozen new friends so far. I cannot wait to come back for the next meeting!

Thank you to Emily 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: Thushara Madanayake

cshl-visitor-thushara-manadayake

Meet Thushara Madanayake of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center Research institute. The Sri Lankan national is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Timothy Robinson’s lab. He travelled to New York to take part in his first meeting at CSHL: Eukaryotic mRNA Processing; and Thushara was among the ~120 poster presenters at the biennial meeting. His poster presentation was on “A novel approach to inhibit Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) signaling through Splice Switching Oligonucleotides (SSOs)”.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am interested in gene expression regulation and in this lab we are studying to identify novel therapeutics for non-small cell lung cancer. We are targeting a key oncogene—EGFR—using RNA based technology.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Alternative mRNA splicing is a critical and an underappreciated factor in cancer. The use of splice switching oligos (SSO) for spinal muscular atrophy to manipulate the aberrant splicing was recently approved. We are using this novel therapy in our research as a way to side step the resistance from drugs that have been approved for certain lung cancers. 

How did your scientific journey begin?
In high school, I found my zoology teacher very inspirational at teaching, especially genetics. After learning the basics of genetics from my teacher, I always had it in my mind that I wanted to become a genetic engineer. After following the traditional science pathway in my home country of Sri Lanka, I was selected to pursue my PhD in the US. Since then, I have been actively involved in the gene regulation research field.

Was there something specific about the Eukaryotic mRNA Processing Meeting that drew you to attend?
I was interested in the meeting’s title Eukaryotic mRNA processing, which is a highly-focused theme for our research.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
This is a well-organized event that is very focused on the theme. Also, we met contacts who are working in the related field. Hopefully a future collaboration with them can develop.

If someone curious in attending this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
If you want to form collaborations and learn some science, go for it.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
Food has been great and a nice variety.

Thank you to Thushara 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: Ying Zhang

cshl-visitor-ying-zhang

Meet Ying Zhang of the Walter and Elizabeth Hall Institute of Medical Research (Australia). The Chinese national and postdoctoral fellow is a member of Guillaume Lessene’s lab in ACRF Chemical Biology Division. Ying is with us for our meeting on Cell Death as a poster presenter.  

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My present research is mainly focus on cell death signaling pathways, particularly, the regulation of necroptosis signaling. We primarily use live cell imaging techniques to characterize necroptosis-related biological processes.

How did you know you wanted to make this the focus of your research?
During my PhD, I was studying the mechanism of how bacterial pathogens manipulate host immune responses during infection, such as the inhibition of cell death signaling and/or inflammation signaling. From that study, I noticed how closely cell death is related with numerous diseases. Cell death signaling is incredibly complicated, and there are still many gaps in this field that remain elusive, especially the regulation of cell death during or after disease development.

How did your scientific journey begin?
During my bachelor in food science and engineering, I took a few biology courses, such as microbiology and biochemistry, and became strongly interested in them. Consequently, I started my journey in science by doing my master’s and PhD in medical biology. Scientific research work is creative and challenging. The longer I stayed in science, the more I am fascinated by it.

Was there something specific about the Cell Death meeting that drew you to attend?
CSHL conferences have a very good reputation and a lot of researchers who have been here highly recommended it for me. It is a good opportunity to meet other people in the cell death field and get to know their work. It is also a perfect platform where I can get feedback for my study.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
From this meeting, I learned a lot not only in my area but many others. A number of the speakers gave brilliant overviews of their topics which expanded my understanding about the research happening in cell death.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the meeting to your work?
I learned that besides experimental work, the regulation of signaling pathways can also be studied by constructing models via computational analysis. It could be very useful to apply this in my study.

If someone curious in attending this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I’ll definitely recommend this meeting to people who are doing cell death research. This is a conference that covers a good variety of different research topics.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
CSHL is a very nice place to stay. Besides the conference, there are other activities we can do like go to the gym or swim. The staff here are friendly, professional and helpful.

Thank you to Ying 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.