Please describe your career path.
I was born and raised in rural central Indiana. I went to college at Purdue U. as a Lilly-Purdue Alumni Scholar and majored in chemistry. While an undergrad, I did undergraduate research in Patti LiWang’s lab using NMR to study protein and nucleic acid structure. I then went to graduate school at MIT in the Dept. of Chemistry and received a NSF predoctoral fellowship. While at MIT, I worked with JoAnne Stubbe where I studied enzymes in purine biosynthesis that function on chemically labile substrates or intermediates. After graduate school, I joined the “RNA World” with a joint postdoc between Melissa Moore and Jeff Gelles at UMass Medical School and Brandeis U., respectively. As a postdoc, I received NRSA and K99/R00 fellowships from the NIH for my studies on using single molecule fluorescence methods to study pre-mRNA splicing. I then moved to Madison!
What is the main focus of your research program?
My laboratory uses light microscopy to study the biochemistry behind the machines of gene expression. We often use these microscopic methods to study the machines in action one-at-a-time–a technique called single molecule biochemistry. We are particularly interested in pre-mRNA splicing. Splicing of RNAs to remove introns and join protein-coding exons together is an essential step in gene expression in all eukaryotes. This process is carried out by the spliceosome which is composed of 5 RNAs and >100 proteins! Defects in splicing can cause a number of diseases ranging from retinitis pigmentosa to spinal muscular atrophy. We are currently investigating how the spliceosome is assembled, how ATP hydrolysis is used to ensure splicing fidelity, and how biology has evolved to manipulate the splicing machinery with trans-acting factors (i.e., alternative splicing). The insights we will gain from these studies will have important implications for understanding human gene expression and the roles of splicing in human disease.
What drew you to UW-Madison?
UW-Madison is a great place to do research! My research is highly interdisciplinary; so, I particularly liked UW’s strengths in many different areas: microbiology, bioengineering, chemistry, enzymology, the LOCI facility, etc… This gives me a huge pool of talent to draw inspiration from. In addition, the UW is a “hot bed” of RNA research, and there are many labs on campus whose research interests complement my own. UW also attracts phenomenal graduate students. Finally, Madison is a great town to live in, and I’m enjoying being closer to my family who are all located in the Midwest.