Honors Spotlight Star: Zoe Tesone
Whose lab are you in?
What is the title of your research?
The PAM-1 aminopeptidase interacts with cytoskeletal regulators in controlling cortical dynamics in the one-cell C. elegans embryo.
Give a brief summary of your research.
My work focuses on characterizing phenotypic defects in mutant embryos. I use RNAi (RNA interference) for gene knock-out and then image the embryos through two types of microscopy to analyze the interactions of cytoskeletal regulators with the PAM-1 aminopeptidase in organizing the cytoskeleton in the one-cell C. elegans embryo. RNAi is used to knock out the gene of interest (the two genes I am interested in are ani-1 and nmy-2), resulting in the embryos not having the protein that gene encodes. Microscopy allows me to observe developmental timepoints and possible defects in the embryos, specifically during the first division. The experiments are done in both wildtype (normal) embryos and pam-1 mutant embryos. The phenotypes I analyze occur at different stages of development. I look at pseudocleavage, asymmetric division, and whether there are blebs (protrusions of the plasma membrane) at the points of ingression during division. By knocking out the genes, I can compare normal development to defections to understand specific gene function. Localization of the proteins in the embryo helps with our understanding of their role during development.
What was your motive for joining a research lab?
During Genetics Lab my Sophomore year, one of our first experiments was using C. elegans to characterize phenotypic defects and determine the mutation. I was excited seeing worms moving on the plate and being able to use this to hypothesize about their genotypes. I subsequently applied for a position in Dr. Rebecca Lyczak’s C. elegans research lab to learn about early embryonic development. I like learning through experimentation, and that is exactly what a research lab allows you to do. The first time I looked into the microscope to watch the embryo divide asymmetrically with such purpose, I knew I was hooked.
What are your future plans for after graduation?
I want to pursue laboratory research upon graduation. I applied to PhD programs within the Molecular, Developmental, and Cell Biology fields. I am in the process of deciding which school I will continue my studies at, and I am excited to have the opportunity to continue learning and getting to do research. I look forward to developing strong relationships with collaborators and gaining the skills and independence necessary for a successful career in research. Following graduate school, I want to continue in a career in academics.
How has participating in research affected your college experience?
Lecture and textbook material introduced me to experiments, but nothing could have conveyed the excitement and awe I felt watching that first division of the one cell C. elegans embryo. The experience and education I have gained through research has been invaluable in broadening my knowledge and enabling me to draw connections between class and lab. The opportunity to present my work has honed my public speaking skills. I am also drawn to the importance of teamwork and collaboration in the lab. I enjoy the opportunity as an Honors student to serve as a mentor to one- and two- credit students, by designing experiments and working with them to develop their own laboratory and analytical skills.
What has been the highlight of your research?
The highlight of my research has been the opportunity to grow in the field. As part of the Ursinus College Summer Fellows program, I had the opportunity to present at the GSA International C. elegans Conference. This was my first big conference, and I was nervous giving the poster presentation and was not confident I knew the right questions to ask other presenters. Taking upper-level courses and spending more time in the lab, I gained confidence explaining the significance of the research. I had the opportunity to attend more conferences and last December was able to present my current work at the American Society for Cell Biology Meeting. I was excited to discuss my work with faculty members and scientists in the cell biology field and was comfortable asking questions. It is as rewarding as when you study long and hard for an exam and end up doing well because you understand the material.
Any words of wisdom for prospective student researchers?
Do not be afraid to ask questions! Look into the research opportunities on campus and talk to faculty members about their work and explore research you might be interested in. When in a research lab, take advantage to ask questions and look for opportunities to contribute and collaborate.
Are there any fellow researchers or mentors you would like to thank?
I would like to thank Dr. Lyczak and Eva Jaeger for their mentorship, their investment in me as a researcher and the collaborative environment they encourage in the lab. I also want to thank my research team, Alexis Ayala and Jill Verrelle for their help with experiments. Shira Levin has been a great lab partner for two years and I appreciate having worked with her. I also want to thank AJ Belville and Nareen Babaian for their help in lab. Dr. Lyczak’s lab is full of wonderful people and I appreciate all the people I have met through it!