Women In Science

Visitor of the Week: Tabita Ramirez-Puebla

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Meet Tabita Ramirez-Puebla of The Forsyth Institute. The Mexican national is a postdoctoral scientist in Gary Borisy’s lab. Tabita is on campus for her maiden meeting at CSHL – Microbiome – where she presented a poster entitled “Application of CLASI-FISH to visualize the micron-scale spatial structure of the microbiome of the kelp Nereocystis luetkeana.”

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am a biologist interested in the study of microbiomes. Particularly, I am interested in the ecological implications of the distribution of microbes in relation to the micron-scale features of their environment. The spatial arrangement plays a key role in the interaction of bacteria with other microbes, hosts and their environment. In my current project I am working to establish a method to visualize the dynamics of the bacterial biofilms in the human mouth.

How did you know you wanted to study this/make it the focus of your research?
In previous projects, I have worked with symbiotic bacteria of eukaryotic hosts and realized the relevance of microorganisms to both the host biology and functioning of the ecosystems. The importance of microbiomes is increasingly recognized and High-throughput ‘omics approaches allow us to study them in an effective way. However, in such techniques the spatial arrangement is destroyed during sampling. Visualizing the micron-scale spatial organization provides clues about micro-habitats, intertaxon associations and metabolic partners. I am using the human oral microbiome as a model to understand the dynamics of microbial communities at micron-scale. I want to study the micron-scale biogeography of microbiomes to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of their function and the ecological role of the different members in a microbial community.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t interested in nature. When I was a child, I spent much time watching documentaries which helped to develop a curiosity that drove me to become a scientist.

I have been inspired by different scientists, but women in science made the biggest impact in my life. I remember how encouraging it was to read papers by women scientists because it made me realize that I could do it too. I have since had the opportunity to work and learn from strong, intelligent, and passionate women and continue to do so.  

Was there something specific about the Microbiome meeting that drew you to attend?
I was particularly interested in the topics of Host-microbe community assembly, Microbe-microbe interactions, and Spatial studies of the microbiome. These subjects are very relevant for my current research and attending this meeting provides me with the opportunity to discuss them – and exchange ideas – with other scientists.

As of today, what is your key takeaway from the meeting?
There are many scientists studying the human microbiome to develop therapies and there are already successful examples. I find this very interesting and inspiring.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the meeting to your work?
I think that I can learn something new just by talking with other attendants about their projects. I have learned of eye-catching approaches that I would like to apply to my future research in microbiomes.

If someone curious in attending this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I think this conference has an outstanding panel of speakers and the chairs organized this event in such a way that attendees have many opportunities to engage in high-level discussions that can generate a lot of feedback.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The landscape of CSHL is gorgeous! It’s the perfect environment that fosters creativity. This is my first meeting at the CSHL and it is what I expected it to be: beautiful location, and attendants are enthusiastic and willing to talk.

Thank you to Tabita 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: Natasha Pacheco

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Meet Natasha Pacheco of the Inova Translational Medicine Institute where she is a postdoctoral research fellow. Natasha is on campus for this summer’s Statistical Methods for Functional Genomics course which makes this her fourth time at the Laboratory. Her CSHL course and meeting history includes the 2015 Biology of Genomes, 2016 Programming for Biology course, and 2017 meeting of Genome Informatics.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I’m broadly interested in using bioinformatics applications to understand how genetic variants contribute to different diseases. My current research project focuses on characterizing noncoding DNA regulatory elements in congenital heart disease (CHD), with the ultimate goal of identifying genetic variants within noncoding DNA elements in CHD patients.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
The need to understand the functional roles of noncoding DNA elements has long been recognized, yet it’s fascinating to me how little we know about basic concepts like what defines a noncoding DNA element. Before we can begin to address how different genetic variants could affect a noncoding DNA element’s functional role, we need better definitions of what noncoding DNA elements are and what their targets are under normal biological conditions.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I first got inspired in 8th grade when my science teacher played the movie Lorenzo’s Oil. This movie is based on a true story about a young boy diagnosed with the genetic disorder Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). I was so amazed by how such a seemingly small change in a single gene could cause such a devastating disorder like ALD. I knew then that I wanted to understand how genetics influences health and disease.

Was there something specific about the Statistical Methods in Functional Genomics course that drew you to apply?
My research project requires the integration of different types of bioinformatics tools and large “omics” data sets. I quickly realized that I needed a more solid foundation of the underlying statistics for many of the bioinformatics tools I need to use, and how to pick and use the best bioinformatics tools for my research needs.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
So far I’ve learned how important it is to understand your data set and the question(s) you’re trying to ask, as well as great tools in R and Bioconductor to analyze and visualize different types of data.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
Really spend time to understand the statistics behind different bioinformatics tools, as different statistics can address different questions and affect how you interpret your results.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would say ask lots of questions, take advantage of all the great instructors’ expertise, and get plenty of rest before arriving for the course!

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I love walking around the campus and taking in the beautiful landscape, it’s a great way to clear my mind and come back to class refreshed and ready to learn.

Thank you to Natasha 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: Sheenah Bryant

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Meet Sheenah Bryant of Central Michigan University. Sheenah is an adjunct research faculty member in Ute Hochgeschwender’s lab, and a proud single mom and Native American. She is on campus for the Ion Channels in Synaptic and Neural Circuit Physiology course where she has been expanding her expertise in generalized ion channel regulation.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am interested in studying the mechanisms of neural circuit formation in development. I hope to characterize changes inneurons resulting from neural hyperactivity during development, and the changes in neural circuit trajectories that control adult behavior.

How did decide to make this the focus of your research?
My dissertation focused on characterizing individual cell membrane proteins. Near the end of my doctoral work, I was introduced to novel method of neural control during a lightning talk by a member of my postdoctoral PI's lab. Those two minutes inspired me with many fundamental questions about neurons, and even our brain, that could be studied by controlling neural activity using bioluminescence-driven optogenetics. I knew immediately that this was the work I wanted to dedicate my research career to.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I have loved the creative curiosity of science since I was very young.  As a Native American and also a single mother, my path thus far has been filled with challenges of doubt and sacrifice, and great reward. I feel passionately that pursuing my dreams as a developmental neuroscientist will inspire my children and the Native American students I meet throughout my career, to pursue their dreams regardless of how unknown or difficult the journey may seem.

Was there something specific about the Ion Channels in Synaptic and Neural Circuit Physiology course that drew you to apply?
I knew this course would be an intense few weeks of classroom and lab training of powerful techniques for studying the contribution of ion channels to neuron functionality, which is at the core of my research goals. Attending a CSHL course is an amazing opportunity because they bring together experts from all over the world to instruct and lecture.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
The research techniques I have learned -- such as cultured cell, tissue slice and in vivo patch-clamp electrophysiology -- has helped me to exploit my expertise of generalized ion channel regulation towards answering questions within the field of neuroscience. Each of these techniques I will need to study the relationship between ion channel activity and behavior of organisms.

What is your key takeaway from the Course?
This course is providing me with a clear understanding of how proper regulation of ion channels enables neural function and circuit formation, and the cutting edge techniques used to study these relationships.

If someone curious in attending the Ion Channels in Synaptic and Neural Circuit Physiology course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I highly recommend this experience to all students at the beginning of their research careers. In a very short amount of time, I successfully mastered difficult experimental techniques and learned the scientific foundation of my new field of study. I hope to attend several other courses during my postdoctoral training.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The extremely knowledgeable instructors and guest speakers were very kind and excited to be here. It is such a fun and collegial atmosphere, which I'm sure I will take with me to my postdoctoral university.

Sheenah received funding support from her PI’s National Science Foundation (NSF) NeuroNex grant. On behalf of Sheenah, thank you to NSF for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend training course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Sheenah 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: Neetika Jaisinghani

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Meet Neetika Jaisinghani of SUNY, Stony Brook. Neetika recently joined as a postdoctoral fellow in Jessica Seeliger’s lab and is finishing up her training at our Metabolomics course. This is her first course at CSHL and we suspect to have her back on campus participating in our future metabolism and immunology meetings.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
Metabolism plays an important role in the host pathogen interaction of tuberculosis (TB). My research interests pertain specifically to how altered lipid metabolism in the host as well as the pathogen perturb the pathology of the disease. During my PhD, I worked on how infection of macrophages alters their lipid metabolism which finally affects their inflammatory response. And now I am excited to start studying pathogen’s lipid metabolism in Dr. Seeliger’s lab.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
During my initial training at Dr. Sheetal Gandotra’s lab at CSIR IGIB, India, I learnt that tuberculosis infection leads to formation of lipid-rich macrophages in granulomas, the mechanism of which was not clearly understood. I started with a biochemical approach and found out that, contrary to common belief, bacterial infection of macrophages actually did not increase synthesis of lipids in macrophages. This was when I became drawn towards understanding metabolism in tuberculosis infection. I then went on to identify necrotic cell death as the metabolic stimulus responsible for lipid-rich macrophage formation in tuberculosis granulomas.

How did you scientific journey begin?
My interest towards research developed during my PhD in Gandotra’s lab at CSIR IGIB, where I was working with a great group of people who came from different scientific backgrounds. The discussions with my PI and my fellow lab mates kept me up-to-date on the recent discoveries as well as the history of scientific revelations in TB.

Was there something specific about the Metabolomics course that drew you to apply?
While my PhD training helped me gain expertise in studying host and pathogen lipid metabolism with techniques such as biochemical pathway analysis using metabolic labelling, lipid analyses using thin layer chromatography, and confocal microscopy, I lacked mass spectrometry training essential to understanding bacterial lipid metabolism as a whole. The Metabolomics course at CSHL will be beneficial in filling that technique gap and help me answer the unanswered questions from an omics perspective.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
This is a very intensive course on metabolomics, which helped me think about the various techniques of metabolomics that I can use to answer the questions about mycobacterial metabolism. Apart from that, I really enjoyed interacting with the other students, teaching assistants, organizers and the guest speakers. I learnt a lot from their experiences.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I am thankful to the organizers Amy Caudy, Adam Rosebrock and Justin Cross for considering my participation. The organizing team is always available and approachable to answer questions and give their insights on a specific problem. Additionally, the nature of the course is such that you learn a lot at the end of it. I strongly feel that this is the best thing there is for anyone who is beginning to study metabolism.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I like the CSHL campus, it is very scenic and beautiful. The scavenger hunt, beach picnic and sailing trip made my stay such a memorable one. I remember telling my course mates at one point that I don’t want to leave here. CSHL is a wonderful location with a lot of history, just being here inspires me and I’ve heard many of the course mates say the same thing.

Neetika received a scholarship from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) to cover a portion of her course tuition. On behalf of Neetika, thank you to NIGMS for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Also, thank you to Jessica Seeliger for encouraging and supporting her lab members to take part in our training courses – and simultaneously. (Nuri Kim is currently training at our Advanced Bacterial Genetics course. [http://bit.ly/cabg2019])Finally, thank you to Neetika for being this week’s featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists – and discover the wide range of science that takes place in a CSHL meeting or course – go here.

Visitor of the Week: Mackenzie Davenport

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Meet Mackenzie Davenport of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Mackenzie is a graduate student and member in the lab headed by Dr. Mick Edmonds. She is currently on campus training at the 37th iteration of our Mouse Development, Stem Cells & Cancer course – her first course at CSHL.  

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I’m really interested in the genetic mechanisms underlying disease. I’m currently working on studying genetic and molecular mechanisms involved in lung cancer pathogenesis.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Lung cancer is a devastating disease, acting as the number one cause of cancer-related deaths, and while several of the genetic drivers of lung cancer have been identified, a lot of them have been found to be “untargetable,” or cancer cells quickly develop resistance mechanisms to current approaches. This really highlighted a huge unmet need to further understand other genetic mechanisms underlying this disease.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I think high school was a really pivotal time in my life: I took an AP Biology class by an incredibly enthusiastic and talented teacher; I met a little boy battling muscular dystrophy; and a friend’s mother passed away from lung cancer. These events happening concurrently and simultaneously really inspired a need to understand how genetics and DNA were playing a role in disease.

Was there something specific about the Mouse Development, Stem Cells & Cancer that drew you to apply?
I’m really interested in mouse models and how better models can be made to more accurately recapitulate disease, so learning a lot of the techniques -- from zygote isolation and microinjection to mouse embryonic stem cell culture -- essentially how to make a genetically engineered mouse model, was really appealing.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
In addition to sharing the techniques that I have learned with my lab mates, one of the biggest things I will apply to my own work is a greater perspective on cancer, especially from a developmental viewpoint.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
The course has been a fantastic experience, and one of the biggest takeaways is having been able to meet so many amazing scientists who are leaders in their fields and actually being able to learn directly from them.

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
The course is amazing, and I highly recommend it. In such a short amount of time, there is so much information that you can learn about mouse development, the creation of mouse models, stem cells, etc. It really is a privilege to attend and is an invaluable experience.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The campus is absolutely beautiful, and there are so many fantastic people to meet who are visiting from all over the world.

Mackenzie received a scholarship from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to cover a portion of her course tuition. On behalf of Mackenzie, thank you to NCI for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Mackenzie 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.