Spotlights 2024

Joon Park

May 2024 Spotlight
Joon Park

I am a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Whitney Yin’s laboratory in the department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. My current work is focused on mitochondrial DNA replication and transcription fidelity in regard to human health. Specifically, I use cryogenic electron microscopy as a main tool coupled with biochemical approaches to discover the molecular basis of antiviral toxicity in mitochondrial DNA and RNA polymerases, which are often off target to antivirals.

My passion for research kindled while I was shadowing a physician. During my shadowing experience, I learned first-hand that effective therapeutics are still not available for many illnesses, and their effectiveness vary greatly from person to person despite active research being carried out in the field. These realities hit me and diverted my attention to the importance of discovering detailed mechanisms behind pathogenesis of diseases for developing new and effective cures.

My doctoral work focused on establishing the foundation for antivirals studies. Since it was not clear how replicative DNA polymerases detect and excise incorporation errors, I first characterized this mechanism in DNA polymerase g, only replicative DNA polymerase in human mitochondria. Additionally, we further probed to find key residues that participate in detecting errors in DNA. Continuing on from this foundational work, now the study focuses on interaction between the antiviral drugs and DNA polymerase g. By testing and studying antivirals with various modifications, we can assign degree of toxicity to each modification on different antivirals, which can help facilitate current and future antiviral design to minimize side effects in patients.

Ultimately, I would like to be an established, independent researcher and discover broad-spectrum antivirals that can be effectively used in medical settings.

Outside of the laboratory, my wife and I devote all our time to our new baby boy, whom we welcomed in March. 

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April 2024 Spotlight
Aditi Singh

I am currently a 3rd year PhD candidate in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UTMB. I graduated with Bachelor of Pharmacy from Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, Rajasthan (India) in 2020. As part of my bachelor’s dissertation, I worked under the supervision of Prof. Mike Sheetz in Mechanobiology Institute at NUS, Singapore where we worked on augmenting cancer cell apoptosis using low frequency ultrasound. That, along with other impactful internships within the realm of biology, sparked my interest to pursue graduate studies in similar research area. Currently, we are investigating mechanisms pertaining to ER and mitochondria that might be involved in differential cancer cell killing upon ultrasound treatment. Besides science, I enjoy reading non-fiction, painting, singing and exploring art galleries in downtown Galveston. Beyond science, I do believe the dots connect! 


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March 2024 Spotlight
John Yun-Chung Chen

I am a graduate student in Dr. Xuping Xie's lab. I study variants within SARS-CoV-2 and the roles that nonstructural proteins play. I am a biological engineer by training, and many of my past research projects have involved virology. Prior to UTMB, I worked on an adeno-associated virus gene therapy project at UC Berkeley, and subsequently worked to study HIV-1 at the NIH. 

Our lab at UTMB originally worked primarily on Zika virus and Dengue virus. During to the coronavirus pandemic, our lab quickly pivoted towards SARS-CoV-2 work, and I have been fortunate to receive related training from our lab in a time-efficient manner. This involves not only in-vitro work in BSL3 containment, but also animal studies in the corresponding animal BSL3 (ABSL3) facilities. I now have independent access to both types of facilities and will be training incoming trainees in our lab to work safely in containment labs. 

In my spare time, I enjoy learning foreign languages and listening to music. I play the violin and a little bit of piano. I enjoy karaoke and always appreciate a supportive audience if I were to sing anything from the microphone. 


February 2024 Spotlight
Jose Gutierrez

A proud native of Laredo, Texas, I obtained both my bachelor's and master's degrees in biology from Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) as a first-generation college student. Growing up, I always had an appreciation for biology and chemistry, deciding from a very early age (5) that I wanted to enter the field for the privilege of wearing a lab coat. Over the years, my interest in biology shifted from the attire to a more defined field of study. 

Under the instruction of such wonderful professors as Dr. Ruby Ynalvez and Dr. Micheal Kidd, I gained a deep appreciation for molecular biology and genetics. I decided to complete my master's degree under the instruction of Dr. Ynalvez, studying the effects of different heavy metals on two strains of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii in an attempt to elucidate the role of a specific gene whose function was, at the time, unknown. Following several years of teaching biology labs at TAMIU, I decided to broaden my research experience by finding work outside of Laredo. 

Through immense luck and more than 100 applications across various job postings, I was hired as the Lab Manager of Dr. Michelle Ward's lab in the Medical Research Building. My research focus primarily involves culturing and differentiating human iPSCs into iPSC-derived Cardiomyocytes for use by other members in the lab. I am also tasked with lab upkeep, ordering, reagent preparation, and ensuring compliance with all university policies and requirements. 

I deeply cherish the work that I do, and not a single day can be classified as mundane. My biggest goal is to continue to expand my repertoire of laboratory techniques, and to continue to play a role in the Ward Lab's success. I have also gotten our lab awarded 2 medals for exemplary lab safety by EHS (and the title of Safety Champion for 2022 and 2023).

When I am not in the lab, I enjoy de-stressing by playing music, and challenging others at video games (competitive fighting games). I am also constantly foraging and attempting to visually catalog mushrooms in any city that I live in. as something of an amateur mycologist. Most people would be surprised to know that I broke both of my elbows back in 2022 in a tripping accident on my way to pick up some reagents for our lab. The X-rays have since been immortalized as teaching material in some of the classes at UTMB. 

January 2024 Spotlight
Dr. Anat Galis Vivante

I am a postdoc in Dr. Guy Nir’s lab (Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology). My research, in collaboration with Prof. Michael Sheetz’s lab (UTMB) and Prof. Erez Lieberman Aiden’s lab (Baylor College of Medicine), explores the effect of the matrix rigidity sensor on genome organization and gene expression, from ensemble-level to single-level methods. Recent studies have shown that variations in rigidity sensing (which is critical for proper cell growth) can alter the nuclear morphology and the gene expression profile. However, the mechanism by which the rigidity matrix can regulate gene expression remains unclear. By using genome-wide and single-cell methods, we aim to determine whether genome organization is altered in response to variations in matrix rigidity and may result in gene expression changes, and if these changes correlate with cell morphology. We suggest that regulation of gene expression through rigidity sensing is facilitated by repositioning Lamina-Associated Domains (LADs). Since LADs are coupled to actin-myosin contraction, a change in this contraction, may induce structural variations and can alter transcriptional program. Prior to my arrival at UTMB, originally from Israel, I conducted my Ph.D. research in biophysics at the Physics Department and Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials Institute, Bar-Ilan University (BIU), Israel. My PhD research focused on genome organization in the eukaryotic cell nucleus. Specifically, I studied the effect of nuclear structural proteins on chromatin dynamics. I employed live imaging methods to characterize the dynamic and elastic properties of the chromatin and its organization in living cells. I developed and used advanced optical microscopy and biophysical methods, and required the use of physical models for interpreting the data. I have a great interest in comprehensive research questions in cell biology and genetics, aimed to shed light on the fundamental function, organization and mechanisms of the DNA and RNA in the cell, with an emphasis on disease therapy and pathologies. My love for research, along with my desire to learn new things, make my time at the lab truly enjoyable! Outside the lab, I love drawing, sketching, dancing, and traveling with my family, exploring the Lone Star State.