Title: MAPping the Intracellular Transport Network
Summary of talk: Transport inside cells is driven by molecular machines that walk along filamentous tracks. A network of microtubules spans our cells, provides structural integrity and serves as the tracks for long-distance transport. Molecular motors kinesin and dynein move uni-directionally along microtubules and haul a range of cargoes, including mRNAs, lipids, vesicles and organelles such as mitochondria and even the nucleus. This is essential for positioning and distributing organelles, and for delivering materials and signalling proteins to the cell periphery. Intracellular transport is controlled both at the level of the tracks and of the motors. My lab studies microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs) that control the length and orientation of microtubules and the mechanisms that prevent motors from consuming energy until loaded with a cargo.
After a Diploma in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Hamburg, Germany, I joined the lab of Gero Steinberg at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and later at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg. I then moved as a Postdoctoral Fellow of the Emmy Noether programme of the German Science Foundation (DFG) to the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology in Edinburgh.
In 2007, after three years in Edinburgh, I started my own lab at the Marie Curie Research Institute (MCRI) in Oxted, Surrey. When the MCRI closed in 2010, I moved with my colleagues Rob Cross and Andrew McAinsh to the University of Warwick to found the Centre for Mechanochemical Cell Biology (CMCB).
I currently lead a research group at the CMCB investigating cellular self-organisation principles and intracellular transport. My lab uses primarily live cell imaging and imaging based biochemical assays paired quantitative image analysis to interrogate fundamentally important biological processes. The discovery science conducted in my laboratory receives national recognition as highlighted by the award of a Lister Institute Research Prize which I received in 2013. It has been a really useful and interesting experience to become a member of the Lister Institute. I also received a Wellcome Investigator Award in 2016 which enabled me to expand the lab.
I was MSc in Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research course lead from 2015-2018 and co-director of the MRC Doctoral Training Partnership. In that time, I developed three new modules and was pleased to see the student numbers increase from 4 to 16 over the four years. All students completed the course successfully and almost all students continued to pursue a PhD degree. Since 2018, I am Deputy Director of Graduate Research Studies in WMS and the module lead for “Imaging and Microscopy”, a core module for MSc Systems Biology, MSc Mathematical Biology and Biophysical Chemistry and Msc Molecular Analytical Science and an Optional Core Module for MSc Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research.
Finding a balance between teaching and research commitments can be a challenge. It is difficult to make sure to invest sufficient time into long-term research projects and writing papers if the diary is already full of deadlines for teaching, reviewing, writing grants, meeting with students etc. I definitely haven’t found the magic recipe yet!
Alongside my teaching and research commitments, I have been the Meeting Secretary for the British Society of Cell Biology since 2017. I organise the annual meeting and coordinate smaller meetings throughout the year. I recruit a team of scientific organisers with whom we decide on the topics, venue and social events. I enjoy the role as I work with different colleagues each year and can initiate new interesting ideas. I also volunteer as a STEM ambassador to communicate our research beyond academia and instil an interest in science in children. I developed a Wellcome-funded outreach workshop for primary school children where we use LEGO bricks to build DNA and models of cells. It is both rewarding and encouraging to hear positive feedback about the workshops and that many of the children imagine being a scientist when they are older.
Looking to the future, I hope to use my expertise to help PhD students at WMS to build a research community within the School to benefit from peer support and a network of like-minded people facing similar challenges. In terms of my work in research, we are taking our first steps to develop a disease model in Zebrafish to understand how single point mutations in motors cause disease all the way from the behaviour of single molecules to the consequences for a developing vertebrate organism. Ideally, we want to use that to test and develop ideas to reactivate or compensate for defective motors and ultimately help patients that suffer from diseases caused by these motor mutations.
Date: 21 September, 1-2pm
Location: Microsoft Teams