Mary Gates Research Scholar, Autumn 2019
Research Project: Evolution of Self-Assembling Synthetic Nucleocapsids with Enhanced mRNA Packaging
Project Description: My project focused on developing a protein-based nanoparticle with enhanced capabilities to package its own mRNA genome. As we later hope to use this nanoparticle as a vehicle for mRNA delivery, we wanted to see if it was possible to increase the amount of RNA packaged inside to reduce its effective dosage. We took two approaches: 1) We fused naturally-occurring RNA-binding proteins to the inside of the nanoparticle to see if the protein would increase the amount of RNA being packaged. 2) We then tried modifying the length of mRNA ranging from 700 base pairs to 4000 base pairs to see if length might have an effect on the degree of RNA encapsulation.
What have you learned throughout your project?
The pursuit of this project has taught me to think critically and build a strong knowledge base of the topic at hand. As this project was a culmination of all the skills and knowledge I have developed in the previous three years of being in the Baker lab, it taught me to solidify the technical skills I had and take ownership of my work with a high degree of independence. Most importantly, however, I was fortunate to develop great interests in protein therapeutics. While my path may change, this experience helped me have some idea on what I hope to do in the future.
What piece of advice would you give to future Mary Gates Scholarship applicants?
I think it’s important to show how your research, and the project specifically, will help you achieve your goals during your undergraduate career and how it ties to what you want to do in the future. It is also crucial that you have a strong understanding of your research topic and the steps to answer the question you are pursuing. For me, thinking back on why I wanted to participate in research and talking through the research plan with my mentor helped me answer this questions. Also, make sure to sign up for a revision/feedback session with the Mary Gates Endowment Staff. They will help you immensely in crafting your own story. Good luck!
Your research will mostly likely not follow your plan a 100%. Last year COVID-19 happened and many of us were barred from working in our labs. But don’t give up! There are always other ways to contribute to your lab’s efforts and work on interesting projects. Thanks to my mentor, Christian Richardson, and many other researchers in the Baker lab, I was able to work on a computational project hoping to answer a different question about mRNA-encapsulating protein nanoparticles. While I mostly focused on wet-lab experiments in the past years, this allowed me to hone on my Python skills and contribute to a collective effort. As an undergraduate, explore as much as you can and don’t hesitate to reach out to those who are working on something you may be interested in. You would be amazed at what possibilities there are and what you could learn and do.