How did you get interested in science?
As a child, my curiosity and desire to create new things led me to tinker with any electronic device I could get my hands on. I vividly remember my dad leaving the house with his toolbox as I disassembled everything from TVs and radios to watches and toys. The inner workings of these devices fascinated me, and I spent countless hours exploring and experimenting with them. My love for science extended beyond electronics to the natural world as well. I spent countless afternoons collecting and studying insects, marveling at the intricacies of their anatomy and behavior.
Through my natural inclination towards experimentation and exploration, I discovered my passion for science. In college, I realized that I could use my skills and curiosity to contribute to scientific progress and drive positive change in our society. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities that lie ahead as I continue to explore the frontiers of scientific knowledge and push the boundaries of what’s possible.
Tell us about the lab where you did this work?
The Salk Institute is one of the most prestigious research institutions in the world, and I was fortunate enough to work there for 7 years under the guidance of Dr. Lyumkis. My time at Salk was an unforgettable experience that allowed me to work on cutting-edge projects alongside some of the most talented and innovative scientists in the field.
Dr. Lyumkis’ commitment to excellence was an inspiration for all of us to push ourselves to the limit. He provided us with the freedom and resources to explore new ideas and develop groundbreaking research. Being part of such a dynamic and exciting environment was a truly transformative experience, and it shaped the way I approach scientific inquiry to this day.
Collaborating with some of the best minds in the field was an opportunity I will always be grateful for. I learned so much from my colleagues and was constantly inspired by their passion and dedication to the pursuit of scientific discovery. Through our collective efforts, we were able to make significant contributions to the field and advance the boundaries of what was previously thought possible.
My time at Salk was an incredible journey that allowed me to grow both personally and professionally. It was an honor to be a part of such an extraordinary institution, and I am proud of the work we accomplished during my time there.
What were the biggest challenges in determining this structure?
The road to unraveling the structure of the Pol polyprotein from HIV was far from easy. It took years of dedicated work from Jerry Joe and Eddy Arnold to find optimal conditions to preserve the delicate structure of the polyprotein and make it suitable for structural characterization. Even then, we had to employ every technique at our disposal to extract the most information possible from the cryo-EM data. After numerous experiments and optimizations, we were able to answer a critical question that has intrigued scientists for decades. How does the protease, which is part of the Pol polyprotein and is dependent on dimerization, become active in the first place? We were thrilled to discover that Pol polyprotein has uniquely evolved to accommodate an architecture that promotes the dimerization of proteases along a dimerized scaffold. It was an incredible achievement, made possible through the hard work and productive collaboration of our dedicated teams.
What are you working on now?
I am currently part of the structural biology team in a pharmaceutical company in San Diego, where I continue using and developing cryo-EM methods to solve structures that can be used to understand and/or treat diseases.