|1. What is your specific area of
research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?
I do research in two areas of biology: physiology
and molecular biology. In physiology, I investigate the bioenergetics
of development in skate embryos at the biomechanics laboratory,
under the mentorship of the "fabulous fish guy," Dr. Adam
Summers. My research project profiles the metabolic rate in these
fish using two principle methods, respirometry and calorimetry.
Respirometry is measuring the oxygen consumption then correlating
the rate of consumption with the amount of energy expended over
time. This represents the total energy of the developing skate.
Calorimetry, however, measures the energy invested in the tissue
of the developing embryo. With these measurements, we are able to
determine the energy budget of the developing embryo, including
such factors as conversion efficiency, and nutrient allocation (e.g.
lipid metabolism, etc.).
My research in molecular biology was done at the department of
Microbiology and Molecular Biology, at the UCI College of Medicine,
under the mentorship of Dr. Bert Semler. There, I investigated a
precursor protein found in a family of small viruses called picornaviruses.
Infamous members of this family include polio virus, hepatitis A,
and the avian encephalomyelitis. The precursor protein, 3CD, is
composed of a polymerase and protease, which also exist as independent
viral proteins. While the function of this protein has not yet been
fully understood, solving its structure is the major challenge.
We must find an optimal expression system and conditions in which
to express the protein with high yield. Although we have successfully
found this optimal expression system, the next step is to purify
the protein enough to obtain crystals detectable by X-ray crystallography.
Solving the structure is a major step towards unlocking some of
the secrets of the infectious cycle, which may lead to possible
targets for therapy.
|2. When and how did you first get
involved in research?
I give major credit to my parents who have always
stressed the importance of science and research. I also give credit
to my brother, Abel, whose early start in research inspired me to
give chase! I began research during my sophomore year in high school
by applying for a summer research fellowship offered by the Burns
and Allen Research Institute at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. There,
I was the only student to take on two projects, one in medical genetics
and another in cytogenetics. The medical genetics project looked
at the syndromic distribution of fetal akinesia, a pre-natal condition
in which the fetus suffers paralysis. The goal of this project was
to study all the cases, determine the etiology, and investigate
the different causes and the many conditions that lead to debilitating
disease. The second project focused on nondisjunctional low level
mosaicism. This is a condition in which a small population of cells
in the body expresses more or less than two copies of the same chromosome.
I worked on trisomy (three copies) of chromosomes 21 and 22, which
cause chronic lymphocytic Leukemia and chronic myelogenous lymphoma,
respectively. Even though these cells were present in small number
in the patient, diagnosis became difficult, since artifacts of these
do occur in normal individuals. My project was to determine a realistic
boundary between cellular artifacts and the manifestation of the
disease. These experiences inspired me to start research immediately
when I came to UCI. The rest, as they say, is history.
|3. How has research enhanced your
Research was, and still is, an integral part of
my education. Research gives you more than graphs, equations, theories,
which, as important as all of these are, can only give you a picture
and a story. Research however, gives you experience and an intuition
for the natural order of science. Whether you are a chemist studying
the chemical properties of lanthanides or a molecular biologist
working day and night to characterize a new protein, the experience
of engaging the sciences is one that is unparalleled by any educational
experience. When I listen to a professor lecture about what research
has shown, I can visualize exactly the methods they must have used
and considerations they might have taken. Above all else, research
gives you a dose of critical thinking and healthy skepticism, which
are the key ingredients to the investigative mind.
|4. What has been your favorite
experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?
The most exciting part about doing research is
presenting my material at conferences. Conferences are wonderful
because I get to share my research findings with those from the
same field; it is very fulfilling to sit down and discuss material
with faculty from around the world that work on the topic that I
have researched. All of the sudden, I am no longer one person in
one lab doing this research, I have become part of an international
community of scientists with different experiences, views, theories
and what have you, but all speaking the same language. Another beautiful
part of research is travel, especially to the international conferences.
I can't seem to fall asleep the night before the trip; I am just
too hyper to lie down, so I treat my family to a mock presentation
marathon. Only family members can bear to listen to my presentation
over and over, and still manage to keep smiles on their faces!
|5. What are your future plans and how
has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?
My prime motivation is medicine. I plan to apply
to medical school this year, while using the extra year to do research
or enroll in a degree program. Although medicine, as it stands right
now, does not support research endeavors very well, I believe the
trend is changing to emphasize more research experience. Medical
research is integral to the field of clinical medicine, from developing
therapies, to proper diagnosis. I feel that it is the constant responsibility
of physicians to keep up with the latest in biotechnology and other
medical sciences to provide the best treatment and medical care
to patients. The research I do is a stepping stone towards my career
as a medical scientist. In medicine, research is both a mean and
|6. What advice would you give to a
student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or
I have five main pieces of advices. First, make
sure you take your time to do background research on your options.
Don't jump into a lab without reading some of the work they have done.
If you are not sure what your interests are, look into the issues
that you are passionate about. The best resource for the Biology Department
is the departmental website, www.bio.uci.edu. This site has all the
faculty profiles, along with links to their lab websites, publications
and everything you need to make an informed choice. If you are required
to take a class with the faculty you want to approach, do it-you will
never regret it-because, if worse comes to worse, at least you know
that this is not something that interests you. Second, try to commit
to one lab and stay there for at least a year. The experience is usually
richer than if you hop between labs. Third, take advantage of all
that UCI has to offer in the way of funding: honorary programs like
Excellence in Research, the annual UCI Undergraduate Research Symposium,
the summer stipend (SURP) and the academic year grants from UROP.
The best resource is either your academic department or the UROP office.
Lastly, share the wealth! Get your friends involved in research-perhaps
work in the same lab if that can be arranged-but encourage everyone
to consider doing research; not only does it build your character
as a leader, but ultimately you do a service to science.
|Past Researchers of the Month