Follow the data where it leads you, especially when it wasn’t what you expected to find.
The moment I knew a career in science was for me:
As a high school student I had the amazing opportunity to work at the National Institute for Mental Health. The main project I worked on was studying whether phenylethylamine was a neurotransmitter using rats as a model. While this was an exciting projectto work on, it involved a lot of biochemistry, organic extractions, and mass spectrometry – which are somewhat hard to relate to as a high school student. However, while I was working in the lab a visiting scientist allowed me to assist him on a simple experiment. This involved going into a clean room where he was growing neurons from human nasal passages in a dish! The moment I looked at the neuron through the microscope, I was hooked. I continue, now almost 2 decades later, to be amazed every time I look through a microscope.
I received my B.S. with High Honors in Microbiology from the University of Maryland, College Park. During my time at Maryland, I worked for 2.5 years in the laboratory of Dr. Jane Glazebrook. The Glazebrook lab utilizes Arabidopsis, a plant genetic model system, to study plant pathogen interactions. As it was a small lab, I had the opportunity to have my own project, and present in lab meetings, joint group meetings, and a national meeting. This experience made me decide to go to graduate school.
Because I graduated a semester early, I worked for 8 months as a technician in the laboratory of Dr. Soichi Tanda. The Tanda lab uses Drosophila as a model. This was my first exposure to using flies.
I received by Ph.D in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute for Technology. My mentor was Dr. Ilaria Rebay. In the Rebay lab, I utilized Drosophila to study Yan, a transcriptional repressor regulated by the EGFR/Ras/MAPK pathway, and defined a new biochemical function for the transcriptional co-activator Eyes Absent (Eya) as a tyrosine phosphatase.
My postdoctoral work was performed in the laboratory of Dr. Allan Spradling at the Carnegie Institution for Science, Department of Embryology. It was there I began the project I now continue in my own laboratory – defining the molecular mechanisms of prostaglandin action using Drosophila.
Research directions have been continually expanding in surprising directions. The lab started with a focus on understanding how prostaglandins regulate actin cytoskeletal dynamics to drive follicle morphogenesis. From there we have discovered new targets of prostaglandin signaling, including Enabled and Fascin. One line of current research is focused on understanding the roles of prostaglandins and Fascin in the invasive and collective migration of the border cells.
Surprisingly, Fascin is not just cytoplasmic, but localizes to the nuclear periphery and the nucleus. Its localization and functions at these sites are regulated by prostaglandins, and conserved in humans. At the nuclear periphery, in collaboration with Dr. Maddy Parsons, we find that Fascin functions as part of the Linker of the Nucleoskeleton and Cytoskeleton (LINC) Complex, where it likely mediates mechanotransduction to the nucleus. In the nucleus, Fascin regulates nucleolar structure. Just as Fascin localizes to the nucleus, so does actin. The structure and function of actin in the nucleus remain poorly understood. We have found that nuclear actin appears to play critical roles in Drosophila oogenesis, and both Fascin and prostaglandin signaling regulate it. Current areas of research include: defining the pools of nuclear actin and genetically uncovering the in vivo, developmental functions of nuclear actin.
Starting in 2017, I took over as director of the new Biomedical Sciences: Cell and Developmental Biology Graduate Program. Teaching is also an important aspect of being a faculty member. In the Cell and Developmental Biology, we have developed a 2nd year curriculum for our graduate students – a series of 6 critical thinking courses to take students from observers to evaluators of science. I co-direct the module on Biochemistry. Additionally, I lecture in Principles in Molecular and Cellular Biology
The lab is also involved in a number of outreach activities. We host lab tours for high schools students. Additionally, we developed a mini-course based research experience that we employ in the Genetics course at Howard University, Washington D.C. in conjunction with Dr. Anna Allen (Howard) and Dr. Darren Hoffmann (UIowa).