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Jillian Chase Biochemistry doctoral student Jillian Chase works with Professor David Jeruzalmi in the Department of Chemistry, City College of New York (CCNY). In 2018, as a fourth year student, Ms. Chase published a peer-reviewed, first-author paper as well as a middle-author manuscript in ELife. We congratulate Ms. Chase on her publications and asked her to discuss her research and experiences for this Student Spotlight.

Why did you choose the GC Doctoral Program in Biochemistry?

After completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Rhode Island in Pharmaceutical Sciences, I spent two years working in Dr. Roderick MacKinnon’s lab at The Rockefeller University. This exposed me to the world of structural biology, and I became very interested in cryo-electron microscopy (CryoEM). I was excited about the instrumentation and expertise in structural biology at CCNY and at The New York Structural Biology Center, which is located on CCNY’s campus. I wanted to address questions like, How does the biology work? What happens when these systems fail (disease, antibiotic resistance)? How can we use our knowledge for solutions to health problems? I trusted that The PhD Program in Biochemistry at The Graduate Center would provide the expertise, facilities and opportunity for collaboration that would make addressing these types of questions possible.

Tell us about your laboratory and your thesis research.

The Jeruzalmi lab is focused on proteins involved in DNA replication and repair pathways. We aim to use biochemical, biophysical and structural techniques to understand the mechanisms associated with these processes in bacteria and yeast. My thesis work specifically focuses on the initiation of DNA replication in bacteria, which occurs in three steps: 1) recognition of a specific DNA sequence, termed an origin, by an initiator protein, 2) helicase loading at the origin by a helicase loader, 3) subsequent helicase translocation ahead of the advancing replisome.

In 2018 as a fourth-year doctoral student you published a research paper in ELife. What were the major findings in this paper?

The eLife paper focuses on two proteins, the E. coli helicase (DnaB) enzyme and the  phage helicase loader (P) both of which are crucial for replication of DNA and for the transfer of genetic material to the next generation of cells. Prof. Jeruzalmi’s group worked for over 12 years to determine the structure of these proteins using x-ray crystallography in order to understand crucial aspects of how the bacterial helicase (a closed, circular ring made up of several identical subunits) is loaded onto DNA (an infinitely long polymer). A combination of advances in CryoEM technology, hardware, and novel tomography techniques enabled us to elucidate a structure of this complex- the first CryoEM structure solved in David’s lab. To be more specific, with guidance from faculty at the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center and at the NYSBC, we were able to determine how a helicase loader opens the helicase, inhibits the helicase’s enzymatic functions to avoid inappropriately timed replication events and to propose a mechanism for helicase closing once it is loaded at the origin.  

What are your greatest accomplishments since entering the GC Program in Biochemistry?

My greatest accomplishment has been solving the structure of a complex biological machine by CryoEM, and ultimately being able to publish our insights. Not only is the structure advancing scientific knowledge, but the entire experience was a testament to our ability to fruitfully collaborate with experts in many areas. I think the collaborative nature of the work is what I’m most proud of, and I genuinely believe that that’s how exciting science should happen.

What do you want to do after you get your Ph.D.?

I will be defending my Ph.D. on May 22, 2019 and have plans to join Flatiron Venture Partners, a New York-based venture capital firm, as an Associate. I initially interned with Flatiron in Fall 2018, an opportunity I came across through Eric Vieira after taking his Biotechnology/Finance course at the Graduate Center. At Flatiron, I’ll be using my background in biochemistry and my communication skills to help young companies make connections to obtain the capital they need to bring novel scientific endeavors closer to market. This role requires the critical thinking skills developed during my Ph.D., while also allowing for a more broad scientific focus. I’m really excited to be able to operate at the interface of science, technology and finance, which are all crucial cornerstones for turning science-based ideas into practical solutions in order to advance healthcare.

What surprised you most about being a CUNY doctoral student in Biochemistry?

I was most surprised by just how large CUNY is, and how many resources are available to CUNY Ph.D. students. I took advantage of so many opportunities to collaborate and to explore, both in terms of science and in terms of “what’s next after school?” Some of the things I enjoyed most include career exploration by auditing several courses (a Science Diplomacy course at Rockefeller University, the CUNY Biotech Course and an Educational Pedagogy course at CCNY).   I also attended many, many (free!) lectures, conferences and meetings that focused on everything from science to networking to career-focused workshops. By taking advantage of what CUNY and NYC had to offer, I feel like I was able to engage not only at the lab bench but also with the large, multi-faceted science-based community around us. This was really instrumental in gaining insight into both the science I was working on and future career trajectories (while meeting lots of really great people along the way!)

What do you do in your spare time?

…work? Kidding. I’ve really learned throughout graduate school how to begin to create a work-life balance, which I think is incredibly important. In my spare time, I enjoy painting, long walks with my pup Molly, going to live music performances, taking advantage of CUNY’s free NYC museum admission, and I am a bit of a “news junkie” who really enjoys discussions (sometimes debates) about current events with anyone/everyone who is willing to engage.