Student Profile in Cell State
Mentor: W. Lee Kraus, Ph.D.
Undergraduate Degree: Genetics
Undergraduate Institution: Purdue University
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Awards/Fellowships: National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow – Graduate School
LSAMP Distinguished Scholar – Undergraduate
How did you become interested in science and/or research?
My initial passion for science came from attending a seminar in high school with my biology class. I don’t remember what the conference was about, but in one particular seminar, the speaker showed a picture of Vacanti’s mouse; a mouse that appears to be growing a human ear on its back. I was enthralled at what I believed was an image of the power of genetic manipulation – the ability to change the mouse’s DNA so that it could grow a human organ replacement. My mind jumped to the possibilities of manipulating genetic regulation to achieve a predetermined cellular output. Though my initial understanding of Vacanti’s mouse was all wrong – no genetic manipulation is involved in the human ear growth, rather the mouse acts as incubator, allowing cells seeded on a human ear scaffold to grow – the sense of wonder and excitement toward genetics and, later on, epigenetics, never left me.
Please describe your research.
The goal of my research is to understand the mechanisms that aid cell state maintenance or cell fate differentiation. I utilize mouse embryonic stem cells as my model system and am deeply interested in the activity of PARP-1, an enzyme that post-translationally modifies proteins, during the differentiation process. PARP-1 mediated modification of proteins appears to have a role in facilitating differentiation. My work investigating the action of PARP-1 in stem cell state contributes to understanding stem cell identity and our ability to manipulate that in the reverse process reprogramming.
Why did you choose UT Southwestern?
I decided to attend UTSW for my graduate work because the community and atmosphere on campus is supportive, engaged, and committed to pushing the next generation of scientists to their full potential – intellectual and otherwise.
What do you think makes the Genetics, Development and Disease Program one of the best?
The Genetics, Development and Disease Program gives students several opportunities to present their research, interact with faculty often, and have scientific discussions as a community. All of these things contribute to well-designed research projects and high caliber scientific achievement.
What do you love about the Genetics, Development and Disease Program?
I love that the GDD community is a supportive environment, and every question/critique is meant to push you to your scientific best.
– Aarin Jones, Genetics, Development and Disease Graduate Program