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Student Profile in Mapping the Metabolic Interactome

Ryan Otto

Cell & Molecular Biology Graduate Program

Mentor: Kimberly Reynolds, Ph.D.
Undergraduate Degree: Biochemistry and Genetics
Undergraduate Institution: Texas A&M University
Hometown: Cedar Park, TX


Ryan Otto

How did you become interested in science and/or research?

I’m a person who gets stir-crazy pretty easily. If I had to work on something where the guidelines were set, the rulebook was known, and you just had to follow an established path, I’d lose it. In my eyes, science – as a field – is driven by rule-breakers. People who don’t want to take things at face-value; people who don’t settle when something’s “close enough”. My people. And while every person I’ve met on my path in science is different, and unique, and interesting, they rewrite the rulebook for a living too. From the second I knew that was an option, it was the only option I’d take.

Please describe your research.

For as simple as they may seem, our prokaryotic, bacterial friends (and enemies) are difficult to understand. Like us, they express hundreds or thousands of genes, so we have a hard time pinpointing which gene affects which cellular process, and to what extent. I use CRISPR interference, exceptionally high-throughput assays, and computational biology to decipher how gene expression changes manifest into organism-wide phenotypes like stress responses, environmental adaptation, and bacterial growth. This research aides a global effort to decipher the genotype-to-phenotype problem and can lead to innovative antibiotic treatments, cures to human metabolic diseases, and helps basic scientists continue doing their essential research.

Why did you choose UT Southwestern?

Entering graduate school, the only thing I knew for sure about my research interests was that I didn’t fit cleanly into any single field. Entering a hyper-specific program is perfect for some, but I needed flexibility, room to explore, and the guarantee that I could perform interdisciplinary research. UTSW’s umbrella program was the perfect fit; it let me broaden my interests and pursue drastically different research projects during my rotations through different labs. Through those diverse rotations, I not only found the lab that I call home today – I also met other faculty and students with different experiences and passions, and those connections drive collaborative efforts that I continue to play a part in.

What do you think makes the Cell & Molecular Biology Program one of the top in the country?

Access to some of the best faculty there is, no contest. Mentorship comes in all shapes and sizes in graduate school, and peer mentorship is arguably just as important as mentorship from your research supervisor. But when it comes to those supervisors, UTSW is a stunning institution. We have faculty that founded entire scientific fields, and others that are rising stars answering questions that the community thought were unapproachable just a few years prior. We’re given countless opportunities to meet with these innovators (graduate students’ first class – our Core Course – let me meet about fifty different professors over the course of a semester). It’s not everywhere that you can run into a thought leader in a scientific field while you’re grabbing a coffee – but get to work in a place like that every day.

What do you love about the Cell & Molecular Biology Program?

Do you already know what you want to research? We’ve got a faculty member specializing in that field that would love your help. Not quite sure yet (that’s the boat I was in)? We have HUNDREDS of faculty members, each with unique passions and research directions, who would also love your help. Pursuing your PhD here means that every door is open, regardless of what scientific background you had beforehand. If you’ve got a passion for science and want to be part of a rock-solid team, this is where you need to be.

– Ryan Otto

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