Student Profile in Cholesterol Organization in Plasma Membranes
Molecular Biophysics Graduate Program
Mentors: Arun Radhakrishnan, Ph.D.
Undergraduate Degree: Biology
Undergraduate Institution: Missouri State University
Hometown: Springfield, MO
Awards/Fellowships: NIH T32 Training Fellowship, 2023 Biophysical Society Travel Award
How did you become interested in science and/or research?
During the first half of my undergrad I was studying philosophy and planned to go to law school and specialize in patent law. Our institution's patent law program required taking some science courses and during this time I realized that scientific research was far more exciting to me than reading law journals. I joined a lab in the last year of my undergrad and decided to continue my research there as a Master's student.
Please describe your research.
Cholesterol is the single most abundant lipid in the plasma membrane (PM) of animal cells. Our lab studies how cholesterol is organized in the plasma membrane in order to regulate it's activity throughout the cell. My project uses protein toxins that specifically recognize different regulatory pools of cholesterol on the surface of animal cells to better understand how these "pools" are presented at the plasma membrane. For this research, I use high-resolution structural techniques to visualize how membrane lipids are recognized by proteins and modern biochemical approaches to better understand how these toxins target specific lipid complexes.
Why did you choose UTSW for graduate school?
I knew UTSW had a great reputation for turning out high quality impactful research and liked the idea of living in the DFW area. During my interviews I was impressed by the collaborative environment UTSW supported as well as the state of the art equipment and core facilities that provide researchers an arsenal of tools to investigate tough biological questions. I also saw the Biological Sciences Umbrella program as a great way to gain exposure to many different biological disciplines and support a holistic approach to studying complex problems in biology.
What do you think makes the Molecular Biophysics Graduate Program one of the best?
We have some exciting and engaging discussions in the Molecular Biophysics WIPs. While the coursework is rigorous and qualifying exams are challenging, our program has all the necessary support systems in place to make sure every student has a chance to succeed. Most importantly to me, the MB culture is geared toward developing thoughtful critical thinking scientists regardless of their specific scientific discipline or future career ambitions.
What do you love about the Molecular Biophysics Program?
The MB program offers a good balance of criticism and support. The PI's don't shy away from critiques and you'll quickly figure out where you can improve, but there are support systems in place (career education seminars, practical/theoretical course work, hands on technical training etc.) to help maximize each students potential.
– Jared Smothers