An Introduction into DNA Regulatory Elements

Hi! I’m Angel, and I am a junior majoring in molecular biology and minoring in philosophy. I have been conducting research with Dr. Xiangyun Wei from the Pitt School of Medicine since freshman year spring semester. When I am not attending zoom and going to the lab, I enjoy painting or sketching and sometimes doing art commissions. 

My project is mainly focused on identifying and characterizing DNA regulatory elements which control the expression of polarity genes. Regulatory elements are pieces of DNA which do not code for a protein; instead, they help ensure that the correct amount of protein is made at the right time, in the right cells. One way to understand the way cells maintain differentiation and produce the necessary proteins is by studying the regulatory elements.

I am particularly interested in studying the regulation of polarity genes, which promote cells to develop distinct structures and functions on opposing sides. You can think about how the ends of a neuron are shaped differently to carry out different activities–receive and send messages. However, I am not studying neurons but rather the polarity genes controlling polarization in the retina. Retina is a structure in your eye containing photoreceptor cells that process light information and transport it back to the brain. The particular polarity gene I am researching is known as crumbs1 (crb1). My goal is to uncover the regulatory elements corresponding to crb1 to elucidate the mechanisms dictating the establishment of polarity in retinal cells. 

There are two reasons explaining why research on gene expression is important. The first one deals with a broad theme in developmental biology. Characterizing DNA regulatory elements can help us understand how cells maintain normal gene expression and consequently, develop a potential solution to fix expression patterns when it goes wrong. Cancer and many other diseases result from the incorrect level of proteins. If we can gain a comprehensive image of gene regulation, we can improve our approach to gene therapy. The second reason involves the significance of crb1. Around 80,000 people worldwide are affected by diseases related to crumbs gene family. I hope my work can help contribute to designing a novel strategy for curing crb1-related diseases, including Lebers Congenital Amaurosis. 

My current professional goals are to attend medical school and pursue biomedical research. I believe CURF gives me the support I need to focus on my research. I hope to develop my research and analytical skills during the time of the fellowship. 

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