Rich Sherwood

Background: I’m originally from New York. I went to Stanford University as an undergraduate. I fell in love with science there, skipping a good deal of classes to work in Irv Weissman’s lab all four years. I worked on adult stem cell plasticity (or mostly the lack thereof) and prospectively isolated adult muscle stem cells. I then grudgingly moved away from the California sun to Cambridge where I got my PhD at Harvard University in Doug Melton’s lab. Having grown frustrated by how committed adult stem cells were, I worked on embryonic development, researching how cells decide what to become and focusing primarily on endodermal organ specification. After graduating, I moved across the river to Boston, performing an independent fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School with mentorship from Dick Maas and David Gifford. I used lessons from my graduate work to improve embryonic stem cell differentiation toward endodermal lineages and researched the transcriptional mechanisms underlying differentiation. I now run a lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School focusing on the intersection of genomics, genome editing, stem cell biology, and computational biology.

Name some of your career goals. To sync cells with computers to monitor and program cellular functions. To overcome the biological need to sleep. To overcome the body’s constant need for oxygen.

If you could co-write a grant proposal with Dr. Evil, what would you propose? He made sharks with lasers, but what about humans who can shoot out electricity like an eel?

If you could give humans any ability they don’t currently possess, what would it be? It would be cool to have heat sensing like a snake.

What celebrity would you trade places with? Pitbull

How do you think this celebrity would do in place of you in the lab? His talks would be much more fun—I never start mine with “Mr. Worldwide.”

What lab super power would you have? The ability to read a cell’s genome by sight.

What’s your favorite transcription factor? I’d have to cheat and pick a favorite pioneer (Nrf1), settler (RAR), and migrant (Tcf/Lef).

Budhaditya Banerjee

Background: I’m from the city of Kolkata, India. I got a Bachelor’s degree in Physiology and a Master’s degree in Genetics before moving to the University of Virginia for my PhD. I love asking questions and coming up with alternate hypotheses.

Project: I’m building a toolkit that would enable us to identify cellular transcriptional programs / circuits, based on gene expression profiles derived from combinatorial transcription factor activation in mouse embryonic stem cells.

Name one of your life goals. Apart from contributing something significant to the field of biological sciences, I want to have my own restaurant.

What celebrity would you trade places with? Matt Damon

How do you think this celebrity would do in place of you in the lab? Hey, if he could grow potatoes on Mars, he can get anything done in the lab.

Qing Chen

Background: I went to medical school in Wuhan University, China and obtained my PhD degree in Heidelberg University, Germany.  I don’t have any degree in kung-fu though.

Project: I am interested in cell and genetic engineering in general.  Currently I am using CRISPR genome perturbation, Next Generation Sequencing and computational modeling, together with stem cell and developmental biology tools, to study cell fate specification. My goal is to engineer specific cell types including neurons for disease modeling and regenerative medicine.

If you could give humans any ability they don’t currently possess, what would it be? To install/remove skill sets like you do with an iPhone app.

Lin Lin

Background: I am from Shantou, a coastal city in southern China. I received my Bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from Sun Yat-sen University. And then I did my PhD in neurobiology at Genome Institute of Singapore and National University of Singapore. I like travelling, watercolor painting, comics and writing/reading sci-fi stories.

Project: I am a postdoctoral researcher. I am working on MERA screening in human cancer cell lines to understand the expression regulatory mechanism for tumor-related genes. I am also particularly interested in Bioinformatics analysis on gene expression and co-expression network.

If you could give humans any ability they don’t currently possess, what would it be? The ability to pass on knowledge, education and morality through genetics!

Name one hobby. Foreign language learning.

Name one thing that is not a hobby of yours. Ghost hunting.

What are your favorite transcription factors? Hox genes. In my opinion, their spatial and temporal collinear expression patterns during development represent the most organized biological order.

Tomasz Szczesnik

Background: I spent most of my youth surfing and lazing around on the beach in Australia, somehow scraping together an undergraduate degree in neuroscience. I flip-flop between experimental and computational biology, dissatisfied with how limited each one is without the other for answering biological questions. Currently I’m a PhD student at Joshua Ho’s bioinformatics laboratory at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney, and came to Rich’s lab as part of a collaboration between the two.

Project: The story is that transcription factors recognise short stretches of DNA sequences (motifs), bind there, and in turn regulate the expression of nearby genes. Unfortunately this is not good enough for a predictive model of gene regulation; these short sequences are quite poor predictors of transcription factor binding! We think that this is in part due to the interaction of different transcription factors, where nearby ones stabilise or interfere with one another, and that this would manifest as a grammar over how the motifs are organised. My project has two aspects for identifying what rules characterise such a grammar:

  • An assay that measures transcription factor binding at specific genomic loci, where a library of synthetic DNA sequences (that vary in their composition and arrangement of motifs) are integrated.
  • A statistical model for identifying ways in which the motif organisation can be varied without affecting binding, and for predicting the binding affinity of new sequences.

If you could co-write a grant proposal with Dr. Evil or Gru, what would you propose? An amygdala targeting virus that would induce fear based on the persons proximity to me.

If you could give humans any ability they don’t currently possess, what would it be? To not have an upper limit on the amount of time spent sleeping.

What lab super power would you have? Ability to dismiss research and papers without feeling like I’m missing some key piece of information that would make it meaningful.

What new animal would you make with CRISPR? Something lucrative but ultimately useless. Like a unicorn, for doting wealthy fathers to buy.

Lendy Chu

Background: I was born and raised in a small suburb outside of Boston. I graduated from Harvard University in 2015, where I received my degree in Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology and a secondary field in Mathematics. When I am not at lab, you can catch me volunteering in the greater Boston community, snapchatting my food, or watching TV crime dramas.

Project: In general, I am using/developing different CRISPR-Cas9 screening techniques to study gene regulation in mouse embryonic stem cells. I’m also working with Qing to develop a robust method for gene activation and lineage specific cell reprogramming.

Name one of your career goals: To save lives working as a physician

If you could give humans any ability they don’t currently possess, what would it be? Teleportation

What new animal would you make with CRISPR? A real life Pokémon!

What’s your favorite transcription factor? p53

 

Oscar Juez

Background: I grew up in Cali, Colombia. My brothers and I were pointed toward studying the sciences, and I had thoughts of becoming a doctor. However, after three research opportunities during my undergraduate, two of them at Northwestern University studying the molecular biology of aging, I decided to pursue a career in science. As a youth, I was a volleyball player and swimmer before leaving to study at a United World College in Canada.

Project: As a lab technician, I am assisting on several projects that attempt to elucidate the regulatory elements of gene activation involved in stem cell differentiation.

If you could give humans any ability they don’t currently possess, what would it be? Super longevity!

What lab super power would you have? UV vision to see all my babies running in the gel

What’s your favorite transcription factor? STAT3

Rikita Jodhani

Background: I’m originally from India, as I was born there. I’ve been living in New Jersey ever since I moved to the states in my early childhood. I moved from the Garden State to Boston for college. Currently I’m an undergraduate student at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences studying Medical and Molecular Biology.  I hope to broaden my knowledge on stem cell development by working in this lab. Outside the lab I enjoy photography, Bollywood dance, and traveling.

Project: As an undergraduate Research Assistant, I am working to assist in preparing Midis and Minis. The Minis are designed to isolate total DNA from small quantities of starting material. It provides a fast and simple method to prepare up to 100ug of total DNA from bacteria.

Name one of your life goals: To visit every country on planet Earth.

 If you could give humans any ability they don’t currently possess, what would it be? Ability to have a clear photographic memory of anything they have read in the past.

Fun Fact: I was born on 11/11

Ariella Gifford

Background: I grew up in a small town outside Boston. Gazing into my first microscope at nine years old, I was hooked on cells!  A pre-med at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, I am passionate about applying stem cell research to clinical practice.  

Project: Last summer I followed up our MERA screening work with deletion and sub-deletion experiments in BRCA2 and MSH2 using Transfection, FACS, PCR, and Sanger Sequencing.

What celebrity would you change places with?  Meryl Streep

How do you think this celebrity would do in place of you in the lab? She would serenade the cells with Abba.

Name one of your life goals: Learn to speak four more languages not including Elvish.

What Lab Superpower would you have? PCR by sight

Pets

Peanut

Background: I am a thoughtful, inquisitive ball python. I was born in 2011, and given the average lifespan of my species I should be in the lab for Rich’s entire career!

Acorn

Background: I am a female leopard gecko born in 2011 who can’t help but buzz my tail at the sight of a good cricket or waxworm. 

Carrot

Background: I am a male leopard gecko born in 2011. I have an oddly large head and a complicated love/biting relationship with Acorn.

Alumni

Daniel Shen

Background: I’m a rising sophomore at Harvard University from China and Canada.

Project: I’m using the CRISPR-dCas9 activation tools to investigate transcriptional regulation. Currently, we are using this system to activate a set of tissue-specific genes that are important in development.

How did you fall in love with science? Going to the zoo and the natural history museums were two of my favorite things from childhood. Using science to discover how life works naturally became a passion.

If you could co-write a grant proposal with Gru, what would you propose? I’d team up with Gru to insert minion genes responsible for their cuteness into humans to make us happier creatures.

What lab super power would you have? The ability to see non-visible light so I wouldn’t have to turn the UV on to image gels anymore and worry about exposure. This would also make fluorescent imaging a lot easier.

What is your most embarrassing lab moment? Losing track of the number of lanes I loaded during gel electrophoresis and ending up with extra lanes with sample without knowing how.