Mary Gates Endowment For Students

Elizabeth Karas

Mary Gates Research Scholar, Winter 2022

Research Project: Relating Molecular Structure to Biochemical Function in the Wnt Signaling Pathway

Project Description: The Wnt signaling pathway plays a critical role in mammalian cell development and regulates cell growth and differentiation. I am currently working to generate a novel cryogenic electron microscopy (Cryo-EM) structure of Axin, a protein critical to this pathway. Although its chemical kinetics are well-understood, there is currently no structure of Axin. Elucidating this structure will provide insight into how Axin’s structure promotes its function as well as its role in promoting Wnt signaling specificity. This structure will also be important for understanding and intervening in diseases such as cancer where Wnt signaling is dysregulated.

What have you learned throughout your research project?

Aside from many new wet-lab skills, the most important skill I’ve developed is problem solving. As with all research that explores the unknown, this project has given me many opportunities to develop creative solutions for challenging problems I encounter. Learning how to step back from a problem and think of different angles to approach it has helped me overcome many obstacles in the lab and has made me a better researcher.

What piece of advice do you have for future applicants?

Have confidence in yourself and your abilities. Everything is a learning opportunity and making mistakes is a part of that process. Get deeply involved in your project and don’t be afraid to ask your mentors for help, they’re there to help you!