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Student Profile in Mitochondrial Biology

Mehmet Oguz Gok

Cell & Molecular Biology Graduate Program

Mentors: Jonathan Friedman, M.D.
Undergraduate Degree: Molecular Biology and Genetics
Undergraduate Institution: Sabanci University
Hometown: Denizli, Turkey

Awards/Fellowships: Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences Undergraduate Valedictorian Award, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Undergraduate Valedictorian Award

Mehmet Oguz Gok

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

Since I can remember, I have always wanted to become a scientist. My mom still remembers the time when I was interviewed for a local TV channel when I was seven and told them I was going to become a scientist. Later though for some reason I changed my mind, and I majored in Economics with a minor in Art Theory and Criticism. Right after graduating from Economics, my long-lost interest in science returned (with the help of the inspirational story of the first Turkish Nobel Laureate in Chemistry) so I decided to complete another Bachelor’s in Molecular Biology and Genetics.

Please describe your research.

My project started out with the goal of determining the role of TMEM11, a poorly characterized mitochondrial protein, which was suggested to be an inner mitochondrial membrane protein that is interacting with Mitochondrial Contact Site and Cristae Organizing System (MICOS), our lab’s favorite protein complex. We discovered that, contrary to previous claim, TMEM11 is actually localized to the outer mitochondrial membrane, and it forms a complex with mitophagy receptors BNIP3 and BNIP3L. Mitophagy is the evolutionarily conserved cellular process through which damaged or excess mitochondria are targeted for degradation and defects in mitophagy are implicated in cardiovascular, liver and neurodegenerative diseases and in cancer. Therefore, understanding the mechanistic details of different mitophagy pathways is very important. Our research showed that TMEM11 is involved in the spatial regulation of BNIP3/BNIP3L-mediated mitophagy. Currently we are working to elucidate further details of the spatial regulation of mitophagy under basal and stress conditions.

Why did you choose UTSW for graduate school?

I had no idea where I wanted to go or what I wanted to study in graduate school. All I knew was I wanted to do research. The first thing I did was look where people from my undergraduate lab went for graduate school, and I noticed that UTSW was the only school that multiple students in the past had chosen. That was a great indication that UTSW was a welcoming place for international students, which is a very important concern for international students. This is unlike most schools which are not keen on accepting many international students. Also, as a student who did not know what he wanted to study, UTSW was an amazing choice with literally more than a hundred labs with diverse research topics and an umbrella program that gives you time to decide which program you want to join.

What do you think makes the Cell & Molecular Biology Graduate Program one of the best?

I am a big fan of fundamental cell biology, and our program encompasses labs and scientists from every step of the spectrum from basic to translational research in cell biology. You can easily see this by attending our weekly work-in-progress seminars where you can listen to research on basic organelle biology one week, followed by cancer the next week. As you probably can hear from everyone in our program we also have a great collaborative research environment which makes progress in your research a lot easier because there is always someone who is willing to help you. By combining diverse research with a collaborative spirit, our program ends up being one of the best.

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

In addition to its broad spectrum of cell biology research and conducive environment for scientific collaboration, I have to mention my personal experience with the nurturing environment of Cell and Molecular Biology program. Graduate school can be a very challenging and stressful experience for many students and in order to succeed students need to be working with people who understand the importance of mental health. I am one of the many graduate students who struggle with crippling anxiety in graduate school and luckily, I have had a fantastic/one-of-a-kind/too-good-to-be-true PI (Jonathan Friedman), an incredibly helpful qualifying exam/thesis committee chair (Prashant Mishra) and an understanding program director (Angelique Whitehurst) who helped me survive my mental health crisis by directing me to UTSW Student Wellness and Counseling Center (aka. free high-quality therapy) and providing me with the time and space to recover that enabled me to continue my research. Briefly, what I am saying is your mental health is cared for in CMB so there is no need for further thinking, just join CMB!

Mehmet Oguz Gok

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