Priyanka Kothari

As a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Douglas N. Robinson, I have had the opportunity to study protein interactions that endow cells with the ability to sense and respond to the chemical and mechanical signals they experience.  Using the model organism Dictyostelium, we discovered that to ensure the cell’s ability to mount a quick, robust response to stimuli, a set of proteins critical for generating contractility form “contractility kits” in the cytoplasm.  Non-muscle myosin II, actin crosslinker cortexillin I, and scaffolding protein IQGAP2 build pre-formed units that are primed to respond to stimuli and accumulate to the actin cytoskeletal network, where they can relieve stress on the network and drive shape change.  Another concept we are revealing is that feedback exists between seemingly diverse processes in the cell, such as metabolism, transcription and translation, and cell mechanics.  By identifying the biochemical interactions that integrate and drive these processes, we are uncovering new biology that will help us further understand how cells sense and respond to their dynamic environment.

Questions & Answers

What does receiving this award mean to you personally and professionally? Do you have any connection with the particular award you received?

It is truly an honor to be a recipient of a YID Award for our basic cytoskeletal research in the model organism, Dictyostelium.  Model organism studies are crucial for uncovering new biology that informs our research in mammalian systems, and it is exciting that the awards committee is supporting this work.  Personally, I am humbled and grateful to be recognized alongside fantastic colleagues that are both past and current recipients.  I hope to honor Dr. Yue’s life by continuing to pursue important biomedical research.

What contributed to your project’s success? 

Amazing mentorship from Dr. Douglas Robinson was key to my project’s success.  His ability to interpret complex biological systems from a physical perspective and his emphasis on the importance of quantitative data have been critical aspects of my training as a scientist.  In addition, the opportunity to collaborate with TJ Ha’s lab here at Hopkins and the support from the Microscope Facility here were both instrumental in providing me access to the expertise and equipment required for the project.

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigators’ Day itself, as a celebration of the roles student and fellows play in research at Hopkins?

Basic research is driven by students and fellows at Hopkins and taking the day to recognize these efforts is extremely encouraging and rewarding for trainees.  Moreover, medical advances are impossible without years of studying the basic biology that drives disease and celebrating these discoveries is vital for helping the community understand the significance of basic research.

What has been your best/most memorable experience while at Hopkins?

Outside of my research, one of the most memorable experiences for me at Hopkins has been through the SARE (Summer Academic Research Experience) outreach program.  Mentoring a high school student in lab and interacting with students in the program through research, lectures, and poster sessions has been a really fulfilling experience.  I have learned about the disparities in education and support for historically marginalized individuals, but have also seen how we as scientists can contribute to the community through such outreach initiatives.  I hope to continue to be involved in outreach work to encourage young students to pursue their interests.

Tell us something interesting about yourself.

I am trained in Kathak, a classical Indian dance style. I have always found music and dance powerful ways to tell stories and the energy and positivity they bring is inspiring.