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FEATURED TRAINEE – JOSÉ PELLICCIA
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1. Who is your current research mentor/PI?
Rebecca (Becky) Burdine, Ph.D. at Princeton University
2. What is your research focus?
I study patterning events and their respective signaling pathways that are responsible for proper development of the embryo.
3. What current project(s) are you working on?
I am currently working on two exciting projects:
1) How the Vg1 ortholog in zebrafish known as Gdf3 plays a role in both mesendoderm formation and left-right patterning. Proper Nodal signaling is important for mesendoderm formation and left-right patterning. We have evidence that maternal gdf3 in zebrafish is required for proper Nodal signaling during these crucial patterning events.
2) I also study the ciliary flow linked regulatory mechanism important for proper left-right patterning in vertebrates. Cilia within the left-right organizer (LRO) generate leftward fluid flow that is interpreted by the embryo to establish nodal expression in the left lateral plate mesoderm and exclude its expression from the right lateral plate mesoderm. This patterning is critical to proper organ placement. nodal asymmetry is regulated by the Nodal antagonist Dand5, which itself is asymmetrically regulated by the ciliary flow within the LRO. We are currently investigating the mechanism that links ciliary flow to dand5 asymmetric expression in the LRO.
4. How long have you been working with zebrafish?
Since the start of my formal graduate research (a little over 4.5 years)
5. What prompted you to take up research using the zebrafish model?
I was impressed by zebrafish as an animal model during my graduate laboratory rotation in Becky’s lab. Having the ability to watch a vertebrate embryo develop right before my eyes was fascinating. The transparency of the zebrafish embryo was also appealing, making it extremely suitable for imaging. And, one of the most appealing aspects of using zebrafish is the similarities shared between zebrafish and human genes and proteins. Not to mention, the cool stripes along the fish’s sleek body make zebrafish the Fonzie of experimental animal models. And who doesn’t want to work with Fonzie.
Getting to know you better…
6. Where were you born/where did you grow up?
I was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Queens until the end of my sophomore year in high school. At that point my family and I moved to central Pennsylvania near Harrisburg.
7. When did you realize you wanted to be a scientist?
It was a realization that came about during my undergraduate education. My research experience in undergrad made me realize how much I enjoyed investigating how things worked, which probably dates to my grade school years when I would take apart things around the house to see what was inside. I even repaired a CD player in my preteen years that certainly gave me confidence to try and fix more things.
8. Where did you do your undergraduate studies?
Millersville University in Pennsylvania
9. What other jobs have you had?
In high school and undergrad I worked at Kmart. During undergrad I did two internships at two separate start-up biotechs. After undergrad I worked as a research tech for almost three years at Penn State Hershey followed by a year as a Scientist at a biotech company.
Science and Careers…
10. Share a turning point or defining moment in your science/career.
Experiencing my son’s development and birth was an amazing time that solidified my desire to remain a developmental biologist. It is amazing how a single cell can develop to a beautiful baby full of incredible tissue and cellular complexity. And best of all, babies give you lots of hugs and kisses. It’s almost amazing that most of us make it from gastrulation to birth and grow to a typical human adult. However, there are many who experience irregularities during development, leading to abnormalities and congenital diseases that they must live with all their lives. And unfortunately, some don’t make it to adulthood. This underscores one of the important reasons for studying developmental biology. By further understanding the events that occur during development scientists will someday be able to cure or even prevent some of the diseases that today affect our populations.
11. What would you like to be doing in 5 years? 10 years? (science careers or other)
In five years, I would like to be a successful postdoc, wonderful husband, and great dad. In ten years, I hope to be an assistant professor at a liberal arts or research institution and, of course, still be a wonderful husband and great dad.
12. Other than scientist – what career would you like to attempt?
Farming. I think it would be fun to really explore and understand the biology involved in farming. Studying the ecology in different farming techniques, experimenting on different ways to increase crop yields using various sustainable farming techniques, and using biology to determine the best economic methods for farming. Thinking more about the original question, I guess this would still be similar to a scientist.
13. If you could be present for any "Eureka" moment in history (i.e. the moment some scientific discovery was made), which moment would you choose? Why?
I’m not sure how much of a “Eureka” moment this was (by the purest definition) but I would have enjoyed being present when Antony van Leeuwenhoek observed the first living cell under his microscope. It must have been quite the spectacle to see these microscopic creatures, which he referred to as “animalcules,” moving around beneath his microscope lens. I would have also enjoyed seeing everyone’s amazement when they realized that there was an unknown world of microorganisms sharing the planet with them.
Outside of work…
14. What do you enjoy doing outside of work/lab?
Spending time and experiencing life with my wife and son.
15. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Arroz con gandules and pasteles. It’s a Puerto Rican dish.
16. What are you reading right now (not including research papers)?
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Her style reminds me of Charles Dickens.
17. Name a favorite song or musical piece.
If I had to choose one, it would be Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. I really love this.
18. Favorite place you have lived or visited?
Puerto Rico. I used to visit family during summer breaks from school.
19. Provide a quote that speaks to you.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” -- President Barack Obama
You can follow José on Twitter @jose_pelliccia
Below are images captured by the featured trainee......