Women In Science

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: 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.

Visitor of the Week: Eman Ageely

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Meet Eman Ageely of the Southern Illinois University. The PhD candidate in Dr. Keith Gagnon’s lab is with us for her first meeting at CSHL: RNA & Oligonucleotide Therapeutics. Her inaugural CSHL meeting participation was made with a bang, presenting a poster entitled: ‘’Probing the Cpf1-crRNA Interaction with Ribochemical Modification’’. Having presented a poster at two other RNA meetings, this wasn’t Eman’s first time presenting a poster. However, at this meeting, she was able to “interact with people from the field of oligonucleotide therapeutics.”

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am studying the structure function relationships of CRISPR-Cas12a and investigating the therapeutic applications of CRISPR.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
During my MSc, I observed an article presentation about CRISPR. I was impressed by this new technology and the potential of such technology in the therapeutics field.

How did your scientific journey begin?
Scientifically, my supervisor Dr. Keith Gagnon has influenced me the most. He always set a high standard for science and gives every opportunity to his student go be the best. Also Dr. Ramesh Gupta has been a big impact on me. Personally, my husband Omar has supported me throughout my study.  

Was there something specific about the RNA & Oligonucleotide Therapeutics meeting that drew you to attend?
It is a great opportunity to present my research and get to interact with knowledgeable people.

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?
This is not my first RNA meeting but it is the first meeting I’ve attended with a focus on oligonucleotides. Thus, I learned about a wide range of oligonucleotide therapeutic applications and technology.

If someone curious in attending this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I strongly recommended it. One of the things that I learned and I believe is important for any scientist who work with oligonucleotide is to look closely for both the chemistry and clinical aspect of oligonucleotide therapeutic.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The networking experience that accompanied the amazing meeting. Our lab collaborates with Dr. Masad Damha and I finally had the chance to speak with him here; and I enjoyed talking with him.

Thank you to Eman 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: Kaavya Krishna Kumar

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Meet Kaavya Krishna Kumar of Stanford University. A member in Brian Kobilka’s lab, the postdoctoral fellow made her maiden voyage to CSHL to take part in the Cryoelectron Microscopy course (CryoEM). A grid freezing competition was held during the course and Kaavya was part of the winning team, returning to Stanford with bragging rights.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am interested in how integral membrane proteins at the cell surface serve as a major communication interface between the external environment and internal milieu. Specifically, I study the largest family of membrane proteins: G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). My research focuses on understanding the molecular details of the changes GPCRs undergo and the proteins they interact with in order to transmit signals across the cell membrane. 

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
My interest in protein structures and protein-protein interactions grew out of my graduate work. During my PhD, I worked on bacterial proteins that interacted with iron-containing protein hosts in order to utilize them as a source of iron.

How did your scientific journey begin?
My parents being scientist, my interest in science really began at home listening to dinner table conversations. I started as a chemistry major in college and became fascinated with protein structures when I took a biochemistry class. This was when I realized that the lines between the different branches of science is blurred.

Was there something specific about the Cryoelectron Microscopy course that drew you to apply?
I wanted to learn the basics of cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to apply to some areas of my research. There were several unique features of the CryoEM course that drew me to apply, including a good mix of lectures and lab training.

Winning team members of the Cryoelectron Microscopy course’s grid freezing competition. L to R: Katerina Meze of CSHL, Kaavya Krishna Kumar, Yuichiro Takagi of Indiana University School of Medicine Image: Yuichiro Takagi

Winning team members of the Cryoelectron Microscopy course’s grid freezing competition.
L to R: Katerina Meze of CSHL, Kaavya Krishna Kumar, Yuichiro Takagi of Indiana University School of Medicine
Image: Yuichiro Takagi

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the workshop to your work?
This course has given me the necessary tools to better design and approach my experiments. I am also hoping that the knowledge I have gained during the course will be helpful to other projects in the lab.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
Don’t touch the microscope alignment! But seriously, there are lots of things to try and optimize while performing a cryoEM experiment and there are no shortcuts to success.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
The CSHL CryoEM course is probably the best course out there to learn the basics and gain practical experience. The lectures were very well chosen and spanned from basic physics to the future of cryo-EM. We got to set up our data collection on the microscope with the samples we prepared. So really, if anyone wants to go to a course on cryo-EM they should definitely apply to this one!

What did you like most about your time at CSHL?
The instructors and TAs were absolutely brilliant! My fellow students were from different stages of their careers (professors, postdoc, graduate students) and spending time with them talking about cryo-EM and generally science was a lot of fun!

Kaavya received a scholarship from the Helmsley Charitable Trust and support from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to cover a portion of her course tuition. On behalf of Kaavya, thank you to the Helmsley Charitable Trust and NIMH for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Kaavya 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.