Transforming protein machines & careers in biomedical research

R bodies are syringe-like protein machines that respond to pH changes to extend and contract. They naturally function to deliver toxins across cell membranes by penetrating cell barriers. I will discuss our approach for expressing, characterizing, and engineering R bodies as a platform for the production of biological parts that are capable of performing mechanical work.

In the second half of the talk, I’ll discuss how funding, publishing, and other factors have shaped the biomedical research workforce and how this translates into changing career opportunities in the life sciences. I’ll describe efforts of both senior and junior scientists to make the research enterprise more efficient and productive – and to help those considering a career in the life sciences make an informed choice.

polkaDr. Jessica Polka is a Postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School. She currently work in the lab of Dr. Pamela Silver which centers on understanding and engineering organization in the bacterial cell. Presently, she is studying R bodies, which are ribbon-like structures made of polymerized protein. R bodies are found in dozens of species of bacteria that interact with eukaryotes, and they function as toxin delivery devices. At neutral pH (as is found in the bacterial cytoplasm, where R bodies are made), this ribbon is coiled up. But at low pH, it remodels to form a hollow, pointed tube that can be up to 20 microns long (imagine a paper yo-yo). This extension can break membranes to release trapped contents; in the future, we hope to adapt this feature to function in intracellular delivery or other applications that require penetration of biological barriers.