From Cellular Footprints to Atomic Force Fields: Reflecting on BPS 2017

After BPS every year I take at least a day to review my notes from the meeting, lest I let the new and exciting biophysics slip out of my mind. After reviewing my notes I realized something extraordinary. Every single talk that I went to used or discussed an array of techniques; from experimental to computational, from long timescale dynamics to crystal structures, from cellular footprinting to atomic force fields. This variety of techniques is quite the tribute to the diversity and “do what it takes” attitude that astounds and inspires me about biophysical researchers.

Two of the most influential talks for me came at the beginning and the end of the meeting.

At the beginning of the BPS 2017 meeting, I was fortunate enough to attend Isaac Li’s talk “Mapping Cell Surface Adhesion by Rotation Tracking and Adhesion Footprinting,” … the very first talk on Saturday. The methods and results amazed me. Li was able to demonstrate the role of colocalization of proteins at the cell surface in conferring variability to cell adhesion footprints. Before this talk, I was unaware that such methods were even possible, and now I’m fascinated with how these methods could reveal molecular level details that vary from cell to cell. Additionally, I could not help but imagine how this sort of technology could be applied to understanding the surface chemistry of aerosol particles, as I have just jumped ship from a biophysics to atmospheric chemistry for my postdoc. To learn more about techniques from this laboratory, click here.

One of the last talks I went to at the BPS 2017 meeting, was Maxwell Zimmerman’s talk “Fast Forward Protein Folding.” Unlike the first talk, I was familiar with this work and have applied the described FAST algorithm to sampling conformational space in molecular dynamic simulations in my own research. Yet, in spite of the fact that I was already familiar with this work, again, I was amazed. Not because of the methods or the results, but because of how this work was communicated. Zimmerman did a remarkable job of creating visualization tools and choosing his words carefully to reach all members of his audience; a clear reminder that how scientists communicate matters. To learn more about the FAST algorithm, click here.

As with all BPS meetings, I came away inspired as well as regretful. Reading through the program this morning, I found so many talks that I wish I could travel back in time to attend. This got me thinking: What if the BPS recorded these meetings in the future? These recordings would allow those who attended to revisit the lectures and talks that inspired them and catch the sessions that they had conflicts with and unfortunately missed. Perhaps 2017 is not the time, the place, nor the political climate for such measures.  But I hope one day this will be possible!


Intrinsically Disordered

As a first year graduate student, I felt a sense of camaraderie with intrinsically disordered proteins. The fact that these proteins did not fit into one structure resonated with me. Perhaps you can relate. As a back story, I had just switched from performing optogenetics research in my undergraduate work to studying the biophysics of proteins. Looking back five years later, I am amazed at how much this field has grown, as have I.

For me, this year the talks at the IDP subgroup and through the IDP symposiums were the most exciting. Who knew that even PKA has intrinsically disordered residues important in signalling! And the role of disordered proteins in circadian rhythms help me to make sense of and cope with jet lag. Moreover, as a MD simulations researcher, the talks on the accuracy of force fields for IDPs and structured proteins made me very excited for the future possibilities of simulating IDPs.

I think one of the best things I did in my graduate work was to become part of the IDP subgroup and run for graduate representative. I have collaborated with graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in the field of IDPs to write up a newsletter each month; “The IDP State Letter.” In this newsletter, we would summarize and read various new and old papers in the IDP field. This newsletter forced me to write and read science that was at times quite tangential to my own research. There were times when I felt that I had too many important things to do in the lab and could not contribute. But instead, I paused and took time away from my research to read something completely unrelated to my field, which somehow always helped me to see my own research through a new lens.

As a newly minted postdoc, I encourage everyone to take part in this sort of “extracurricular” education, many of which are possible through the Biophysical Society. It has helped me to realize my passion not just for science, but for communicating science.

If you are interested in staying up to date on the newest and most notable research in the IDP field, check out the IDP state letter by enrolling in our mailing list here. If you would like to branch out of your normal day to day and contribute to the IDP state letter, feel free to email me!


From Channels and Transporters to Channels in Transporters: A Lou DeFelice Memorial

Hello BPSers!

Wanted to bring everyone attention to a memorial mini-symposium in honor of the late Lou DeFelice.

This memorial will be held TODAY, Saturday the 11th of February, in R02/R03 just before the membrane biophysics subgroup session. Eric Gouaux (Vollum Institute) and Alessio Accardi (Cornell University) will be speaking at this memorial symposium. For more information on their talks see below:
Eric Gouaux, Vollum Institute
“Structure and mechanism in sodium-coupled neurotransmitter transporters”

Alessio Accardi, Weill Cornell Medicine
“Probing the mechanistic boundaries of ion channel transport”


Postdoc seeking new field comes home to BPS

The transfer of learning (1) is a philosophy that when we learn something in one field, at one time, in one place, this information carries over to other fields, other times, other places. More importantly, the transfer of learning philosophy suggests that what we learn in school carries over into our lives, shaping our worldviews. As a postdoctoral scholar who has just recently switched fields in December, I feel the strains of this transfer of learning process every day. Learning new things is hard… but oh, so worth it!

What is really incredible about diving into a brand new field, is that it has allowed me to apply the knowledge I gained through earning my PhD in computational biophysics to a new world filled with aerosol particles in the field of environmental chemistry. Yes, I did make this switch just in time for a new administration’s rampage on the Environmental Protection Agency,… timing is everything people.

In spite of my fear of imminent job loss, this new field has opened my eyes to the world around me. Sometimes I find myself walking around UC San Diego’s campus look up into the sky and imagining what small nanoscopic worlds are living in the aerosol particles in the clouds above us. How do cell-derived macromolecules change the chemistry of our environment? What are the compositions of these aerosol particles, and how do their origins dictate this composition?

This month I am thrilled to be returning to the Biophysical Society for my 4th year. I am still and hope to always be a biophysicist. In previous meetings, I have made new friends, learned cutting edge science, joined a newsletter team (The IDP State Letter), watched a National Lecture from the late Klaus Schulten, and been exposed to the diversity that is so distinctive in this society. This year, I am excited to return “home” to the Biophysical Society: a diverse community united in the transfer of learning. Looking forward to seeing the world a little differently after this conference and I’ll see you there!

(1) Kleibard, H. (2004). Scientific curriculum-making and the rise of social efficiency. In The Struggle for American Curriculum (pp. 77-105).