Visitor of the Week: Jose Aguilar Rodriguez

Photo by Constance Brukin

Photo by Constance Brukin

Meet Jose Aguilar Rodriguez of the University of Zurich (Switzerland). Next month, the PhD student and member of the Molecular Evolution and Evolutionary Systems Biology Laboratory headed by Andreas Wagner will be defending his PhD dissertation titled "Genotype-Phenotype Maps in Complex Living Systems". Then in November, the Swiss National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship recipient will join Dmitri Petrov in the Department of Biology of Stanford University and Daniel Jarosz in the Departments of Chemical & Systems Biology at Stanford University School of Medicine. Jose attended the 2017 Yeast Genetics & Genomics course, which concluded earlier this week, to help him prepare for his postdoc at Stanford. 

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am a biologist with broad research interests centered on the evolution of biological systems and the fundamental organizational principles of life. My research aims to elucidate how genotypes map onto phenotypes and fitness in diverse living systems. Having worked on a genotype-phenotype map using mostly computational approaches during my PhD, in my postdoc I intend to leverage recent advances in DNA synthesis, high-throughput sequencing, and DNA barcoding to go a step further and approach this question experimentally in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. More specifically, I plan to study how different environments and genetic backgrounds change the fitness effect of mutations in major signaling pathways. To do so, I will combine computational approaches with cutting-edge techniques for genome engineering and high-resolution lineage tracking. 

Was there something specific about the Yeast Genetics & Genomics course that drew you to apply?
I have not carried out any experimental work with yeast during my PhD so yeast is a completely new model organism for me. However, since I intend to work extensively with yeast during my postdoc at Stanford, it was important that I learn as much as possible about state-of-the-art experiment methods in yeast and in a short period of time. The yeast course allowed me to learn the methods much faster than I would or could have otherwise, and I now have the technical competence to confidently carry out my postdoctoral research.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
My main takeaway from the course is that budding yeast and related species constitute an extraordinary model system to study many important genetic and evolutionary phenomena that I find fascinating.

How many CSHL courses have you attended? How about CSHL meetings?
To date, I have just attended the 2017 Yeast Genetics & Genomics course but I would love to take CSHL's Advanced Bacterial Genetics course. I would also like to present my research in a CSHL meeting. I find the Systems Biology: Networks meeting interesting, and my research would fit well with the meeting program.

If someone curious in attending your course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would tell them that the course may be challenging at times but the experience is totally worth it. You will often need to work in the lab well past midnight but you learn a lot in a very short period of time. Look back, I am amazed by how many different experiments we carried out in just three weeks. The course dexterously combined classical techniques with techniques that are at the forefront of the field. For example, the course included – for the first time in its long history – a deep mutational scanning experiment, which is a cutting-edge method that simultaneously determines the functional effects of thousands of mutations in a single macromolecule. The instructors, teaching assistants, and other attendees are amazing people and great scientists – you will learn from all of them. I specially enjoyed the chalk talks by the invited speakers, as well as the opportunity to talk science with them. Also, a piece of advice: Read the course manual before the start of the course. You won’t have time to read it once the course starts. No joke.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The campus is beautiful and the social atmosphere in the course was fantastic. I made great friends!

Jose received a Helmsley Fellowship. On behalf of Jose, thank you to The Helmsley Charitable Trust for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Jose 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.