Green means go! Brittany Jack talks single cell green algae

Real Scientists is in the US this week with Brittany Jack (@bmichellej87), an NSF Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Kansas Medical Center working in the Avasthi Lab in the Anatomy and Cell Biology Department.

Welcome to Real Scientists! Can you tell us a bit about how you got to where you are now?
My path into science is not traditional, I originally went to college with hopes of owning my own wedding planning business. As we all know, life has a funny way of leading you in the right direction. Growing up my grandmother suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and was always taking medications. I remember wondering, how our bodies could process and use pharmaceuticals. I found this curiosity to be my true passion and began to explore career opportunities that would allow me to satisfy this curiosity. My thought was that I would go to Pharmacy school but to my surprise, a requirement for my undergraduate degree was research experience. To satisfy this requirement, I was involved in several research projects as an undergrad including work in my current lab. Throughout several internships and work with professors at Rockhurst University, I found I LOVED being in the lab, working at the bench, and synthesizing new ideas. After a long time of searching, I knew this was the job for me and applied to graduate school.

What does your lab work on, and how did you get started?
We study the kinetics and regulation of cilia assembly and cytoskeletal dynamics using Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (a type of green algae) as our model organism. When I first joined my lab as an undergraduate, I had never heard of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii . My mentor, Dr. Prachee Avasthi, was so excited about the research that her enthusiasm was contagious. When people ask why I chose to work on Chlamy (as we like to call them), I like to say it chose me! I knew from the moment I met Dr. Avasthi that she was the perfect mentor for me and from there I began to learn everything about Chlamy. The more I learned, the more curious I became about how these sensory antennas assemble. The excitement of new discoveries in these single celled green algae keep me motivated.

What is your research studying specifically?
Nearly all of the cells in the human body have an antenna-like structure called a cilia. Our cells use this “antenna” for movement, movement of fluids, and for sensing signals outside the cells. Using our model organism, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, we can study the assembly and kinetics of this structure. My research centers around understanding the role of actin, a component thought to play a role in the assembly of this structure, in ciliary assembly. We have new and exciting data we are working on finishing up! If you would like to read more, please follow this link to the pre-print.

What do you want people to know about Chlamy and your work?
Everyone has cilia on their cells and defects in this structure can cause many diseases, termed ciliopathies. While, my current research is not trying to answer disease-related questions, the biological questions we are asking will help us and many others understand possible avenues to try and treat people with such diseases.  

Super cool! What do you do when you’re not in the lab?
In May of last year, two of my classmates and I founded @GradStudentSlack and we are humbled by how this community has grown in such a short time and are continuously reminded that the graduate student community across the world is very supportive. I love music and spending time with people I love! So, if I have some free time you will likely find me at a concert. If not I am usually spending time with husband, pets and friends. The most interesting thing about me probably is that I have a pet pig! His name is Henry! Along with Henry, my husband and I have 2 dogs and 1 cat.  Also, I love to travel so tweet to let me know your favorite places!

What does a perfect day off look like for you?
Wake up as the sun rises and enjoy a cup of coffee, watch the news, go to breakfast, go somewhere new and exciting (in town or within a short day trip distance), and end up at dinner with my husband and friends or at a concert!

Welcome to Real Scientists, Brittany Jack!


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