First-Time Visitor

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.

Visitor of the Week: Dylan Guerin

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Meet Dylan Guerin of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The graduate student in Dr. Ai-Sun Tseng’s lab is currently training at his first course at CSHL: Cell & Developmental Biology of Xenopus: Gene Discovery and Disease where he has been perfecting his injection and imaging skills, and learning how others use Xenopus embryo in their work.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
Our lab is interested in studying the mechanisms underlying regeneration. Specifically, I am interested in genes controlling embryonic eye regeneration in Xenopus laevis.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I was interested in regeneration before applying to graduate school. It is amazing to me how some animals can completely regrow lost appendages and it would be even more amazing if we could do that as well.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I am just naturally curious about the world and that curiosity was luckily encouraged by my parents. Science was the natural path to follow to feed that curiosity.

Was there something specific about the Cell & Developmental Biology of Xenopus: Gene Discovery & Disease that drew you to apply?
My advisor brought the Xenopus course to my attention as a way to interact with other Xenopus labs as we are the only lab in Nevada working with Xenopus. Personally, I wanted to learn how to perform micro injections and gain more experience with imaging.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
The injection and imaging skills I learned here will be useful in my research as they are techniques we use in our lab but I have not had the chance to perfect until now.  From talking to others in the course, I have gained a new perspective about how they utilize the Xenopus embryo from a developmental point of view--where I look at it from a regenerative lens. They are similar but with some interesting differences.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
My key takeaway is that there are many different approaches to using Xenopus to answer scientific questions.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
The course is a good way to see what others in your field are doing. Also, you get as much out of the course as you put in.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
It was great to meet people from all over the world and get to know them. The personal interactions I have had here have been very enjoyable.

Dylan received a scholarship from the Howard Hughes Medical institute (HHMI) to cover a portion of his course tuition. On behalf of Dylan, thank you to HHMI for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Dylan 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: Chad Hobson

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Meet Chad Hobson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). A second-year graduate student in the physics program at UNC-CH and member of Richard Superfine’s lab, Chad is at CSHL training at the Quantitative Imaging: From Acquisition to Analysis course thanks in large part to a fellowship from the Helmsley Charitable Trust and support from the Graduate Student Opportunity Fund at UNC-CH.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My main interest is in designing new systems that combine cutting-edge microscopy techniques with force-measurement instruments to investigate the mechanics of single cells. Specifically, I am using a combined light sheet microscope and atomic force microscope to investigate the mechanics of cell nuclei.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I toured Rich Superfine’s lab during an undergraduate summer program (REU) at Duke University and loved the idea of combining force and imaging techniques and fundamental physics to understand the mechanics of single cells. The field was entirely new to me, but the ability to design and invent as well as use my physics background was inspiring.

How did your scientific journey begin?
During my freshman year of undergraduate school at Lynchburg College, my professor, Dr. John Eric Goff, approached me and asked if I would be interested in conducting sports physics research under his guidance. I started work with him in the summer before my sophomore year and have not looked back. I have changed gears from sports physics to nuclear physics to now biophysics, but my passion for research has remained unchanged.

Was there something specific about the Quantitative Imaging: From Acquisition to Analysis course that drew you to apply?
I really wanted to get hands-on experience with a variety of imaging techniques in order to both broaden my general knowledge of microscopy as well as understand the difficulties and limitations of each technique. These skills will help increase the rigor and success of my graduate research going forward.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
Everything I have learned directly applies to our lab. Whether it is general maintenance and care of optics or a more detailed understanding of each component of a microscope, I am excited to share what I have learned with my fellow lab researchers.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
The biggest takeaway so far is that I will never know everything about microscopy, and that is okay. At the course, however, we are building up from the basics so that I can develop a working knowledge that applies to almost all imaging modalities. Moving forward if I need to understand the detailed intricacies of a certain method I have the foundation to do so.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
Take it! The instructors are beyond fantastic and helpful, and you will never look at a microscope the same way again.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I have truly enjoyed getting to know the fellow students and instructors at the course. We all come from such different backgrounds and fields, so learning about what brought us all here together has been an enlightening experience. 

Chad received funding support via a fellowship from the Helmsley Charitable Trust and from the Graduate Student Opportunity Fund at UNC-CH. On behalf of Chad, thank you to these organizations for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Chad 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: Nunya Chotiwan

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Meet Nunya Chotiwan of the Umeå University (Sweden) and Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden. The Thai national is a MIMS Excellence by Choice Programme postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Anna Överby’s lab and is at CSHL participating in Blood Brain Barrier. At her inaugural CSHL meeting, Nunya presented a poster titled “Visualizing Invasion and Spread of Neurotropic Tick-borne Flavivirus in Brain by Whole Tissue Ex Vivo Imaging” and though this was “not [her] first time for a poster presentation…it [was her] first time presenting in a neuroscience conference.” The virology-trained scientist “just started working with brains 5 months ago” learned a lot from the meeting and received great feedback and tools to use towards her work.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My work focuses on tick-borne flaviviruses. These viruses are in the same family as the West Nile and Zika viruses but are transmitted by tick instead of mosquitoes. These viruses can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), but we do not know how they enter and spread in the brain.  I am interested in using imaging techniques to capture the entry and spread of these viruses in the mouse brain.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Flavivirus is near and dear to my heart. I have studied it for several years. When I started my postdoc, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and study this virus from other perspectives. I am always interested in brain and felt like it is very challenging to study. Since several flaviviruses cause encephalitis and there are a lot of unanswered questions in this research area, I picked this topic for my postdoc research. 

How did your scientific journey begin?
I grew up watching a lot of disaster movies, like Deep Impact, Armageddon and Outbreak. In these movies, the real heroes who saved humanity, to me, were the scientists. When I am exposed to science, either in class or in my research, I am always amazed by the complexity of the biology. I always feel excited to design experiments to solve scientific problems. This positive energy is what drives me to continue on this road. 

Was there something specific about the Blood Brain Barrier meeting that drew you to attend?
I am new to this field, I am looking for the conference where I can learn from the experts and get a feedback from my poster. My research interest is about the viral invasion into the brain, which needs to cross some types of brain barrier in order to get to the brain. This meeting is perfect for me.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
I always thought blood brain barrier (BBB) is a ‘wall’ that protects the brain, but this meeting gave me an appreciation that BBB is very tightly regulated and dynamic. I am also glad to learn that what I am interested in, choroid plexus, is still understudied. There are a lot of unknown areas that I can study about.

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?
My goal for this conference was to find out cell specific markers to identify cell types that are infected with virus and tools to study choroid plexus. Through talks and posters, I have acquired tools, techniques and collaboration that can help me with my project.

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?
The quality of science at this meeting is at a high level. Experts in the field did share new findings and even their most recent unpublished data. For those familiar to the filed, you will learn the most current findings, and for those new to the field, you will still learn several exciting information and see where the field is heading.

Blood Brain Barrier is your first meeting at CSHL—what did you think of it?
I imagined that it would be a focused but relaxed meeting with a relatively small number of participants, which enhanced the interaction and networking between the participants. I also imagined that the lab is located in an urbanized area with a lot of buildings. But now that I am here, the meeting is very engaged and there are a lot of networking opportunities. The talks and presentations are very interesting but dense, so my brain is quite overwhelmed with these interesting presentations. The campus, on the other hand, is very beautiful, close to nature and very relaxing. (I am a little jealous of the scientists who work here.)

Thank you to Nunya 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.