Saron Yoseph

As a Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) Scholar, I am researching under the mentorship of Dr. Netz Arroyo in the Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences. My project focuses on developing an electrochemical platform for investigating intercalation as a mechanism of DNA binding. Intercalators are small molecules that insert a part of themselves between the base pairs of double-stranded DNA, causing the DNA to unwind and inhibit replication and other cell functions. With many uses in chemotherapy drugs and treatments for various infections, intercalators are important in developing new medicines to treat such health issues. Medicinal chemists use indirect and complex techniques such as viscometry and X-ray crystallography to confirm intercalation, slowing down drug development efforts to find new intercalators. To provide a direct and efficient way of detecting DNA intercalation, I am developing a DNA-hairpin electrochemical sensor that contains self-complementary DNA, allowing intercalation to occur. I have used phenanthridine as a model system to optimize sensor binding kinetics and gain an improved understanding of sensor performance under variable environmental conditions. Studying the effect of temperature on sensor performance in the absence and presence of an intercalator further confirmed intercalation was occurring as the melting temperature increased in the presence of an intercalator.

Questions & Answers

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

As I was preparing to graduate from Howard University in May 2022, I knew I wanted to gain more research experience with a biomedical focus before attending graduate school. Johns Hopkins is a leader in groundbreaking research, especially in the biomedical research field, so the opportunity to join the PREP program and work with Dr. Arroyo was exactly what I needed to develop my research skills while learning more about the graduate school experience.

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

Receiving this award shows me that I have grown since I began working in the Netz lab and can effectively present my research to others. As a young Black woman in the research field, factors such as imposter syndrome and microaggressions have made me feel like I do not belong in this space. However, having my research highlighted with a postbaccalaureate award proves that I belong and excel in this field. As I move on to graduate school, this award will stay with me and remind me that I can accomplish whatever I put my mind to.

What contributed to your project’s success?

When I joined the Netz Lab, Dr. Arroyo believed in me enough to restore this shelved project and produce a functional platform. With no experience in electrochemistry, I was unsure of my abilities, but his support and belief in me motivated me through failed experiments and roadblocks. Without his amazing mentorship, I could not have grown into the confident researcher I am today. I also have to thank Vincent Clark, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Netz Lab who trained and mentored me while in the lab. Lastly, all of the members of the Netz Lab supported me through feedback and discussions that I could not have moved my project forward without.

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

Johns Hopkins Young Investigators’ Day is an excellent opportunity to highlight researchers who are making interesting discoveries. Bringing an idea to fruition with a research question and working through the struggles of scientific investigation to garner exciting results should be highlighted. Recognizing these researchers and their contributions to scientific knowledge shows them that their work made an impact, big or small.

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

My most memorable experience at Johns Hopkins has been the bonding events my PI and lab have planned, from playing Mario Kart after work to pumpkin carving during the fall season. I had never carved a pumpkin before, but many people in my lab gave me tips on carving a pumpkin successfully, continuing to teach me new things even outside the lab.

What are your plans over the next year or so? Graduating, looking for faculty positions, etc.?

My plans for the next year are to finish up the manuscript I am working on for this research and attend graduate school.

Tell me something interesting about yourself that makes you unique. Do you have any special hobbies, interests or life experiences?

As a first-generation Ethiopian American, I love to cook, but I especially love to make the Ethiopian dishes my mother made for me while I was growing up. I spent my childhood learning how to replicate her distinct taste, and I enjoy cooking for friends who have never had Ethiopian food. I knew I had mastered her recipes when my family started to tell me my food tasted better than hers, but her cooking will always be the best for me.