Molecular Machinations: Nicole Cloonan joins Real Scientists

From geology to crystallography to molecular biology, we welcome Dr Nicole Cloonan from the Queensland Institute for Medical Research. This is Nicole in her own words:

unnamed “I’d always been interested in science generally, being an addict of The Curiosity Show when I was much younger. In high school (years 7-10 in Canberra), the so-called “academically gifted” were not permitted to study biology, so it wasn’t until college (years 11-12) that I discovered my passion for the biological sciences. Life took some unexpected turns, and I ended up dropping out of university and working full time to support myself, but years later, I landed a job at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute (previously known simply as QIMR), and my passion for science was rekindled. I returned to university part time, worked at QIMR Berghofer, and published my first scientific papers before graduating from my BSc. Once I tasted scientific research, I never wanted to do anything else with my life. Now I’m back at QIMR Berghofer running my own lab. I swear a lot more now than I used to, but I’m not sure whether that is caused by or correlated with the increased amount of science I’m doing.

“I’ve had training in cell biology, protein biochemistry, molecular biology, genomics, and bioinformatics, and as a result I have never fit in at any scientific conference I’ve ever attended. I truly feel like I have mastered none of these fields, but it does mean that I can speak the language of the experts in each field, and bring a wide variety of research techniques to my research. I’m fascinated by complexity, the complexity of molecules, the complexity of regulation, and the complexity of transferring biological information from one set of molecules to another. And now I’m at back at QIMR Berghofer, I’m interested in how all of this complexity affects human disease. Mostly though I’m learning about the complexity of trying to run a lab, and pretending I’m a grown up.

“I’ve been involved with some very cool research so far. We invented RNAseq, we’ve been sequencing the genomes, transcriptomes, and methylomes of tumour and normal samples from patients with pancreatic cancer, and we’ve been playing silly buggers, trying to publish the worst name for an “ome” we could think of. I’m most recently known for my work on miRNAs – little fragments of RNA that only a few years ago everyone was running off the bottom of their agarose gels to make their RNA preps look better. It turns out that these little bits of RNA garbage are actually useful to both the cell and the researcher, and can tell us an awful lot about what’s going on in a cell at the molecular level. This will help us do things like pick the best chemotherapies for cancer patients, or understand why some types of stem cells are easier to make than others.”

Nicole started a BSc at the ANU in 1994 and, as she says, “dropped out due to insufficient hours in the day to both study and work to pay bills. She was then employed at QIMR Berghofer in 1995 to sequence oligos, and then become a research assistant for the Malaria group in 1997. Nicole restarted her BSc at Griffith University in 1997 and actually finished it, going on to also finish honours in 2001 (molecular biology), and a PhD in 2006 (cell biology, protein biochemistry, and bioinformatics) from the same university. Her first and only post-doc was at the University of Queensland with Sean Grimmond from 2006 to 2012, where she successfully won a UQ Postdoctoral Fellowship, an ARC Postdoctoral Fellowship, and an ARC Future Fellowship before starting her own lab in 2013.

Please welcome Dr Nicole Cloonan (@ncloonan) to Real Scientists!

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