Mallory A. Freeberg, Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics, John Kim lab
Hometown: Indiana, Pennsylvania
Degrees: Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania USA. The Herbet M. Boyer School of Natural Science, Mathematics, and Computing B.S. Bioinformatics, May 2009
Minors: Biochemistry and Computing/Information Sciences
Hobbies: Reading (especially science fiction, historical fiction, and classics), knitting, taking care of my cats, Eevee and Harley and practicing yoga
Research: Exploring various mechanisms of post-transcriptional gene regulation using budding yeast and nematodes as model organisms. Current projects include investigating global RNA-binding protein (RBP)-RNA interactions in yeast under normal growth and nutrient starvation conditions, global RBP-RNA interactions in nematodes in both somatic and germline tissues, and how the conserved miRNA pathway interacts with both Pumilio family and cold-shock domain-containing proteins in nematodes to regulate gene expression.
What sparked your interest for this research?
As a computational scientist, I have the tools available to me to explore key regulatory mechanisms on a much larger scale than would be possible by using conventional genetic and biochemical tools. Most of my research takes advantage of the ever-decreasing costs of performing high-throughput sequencing experiments to generate larger and larger datasets. Within these datasets are trends and patterns that cannot be perceived by simply looking at the data, for example, in a spreadsheet. The desire to find such patterns and glean biological meaning from terabytes of genetic information is what drives my scientific endeavors.
What do you plan to do in the future?
Ultimately I would like to lead a computational research team at a biomedical or basic biology research institute, either a stand-alone facility or one associated with a large academic research institute. Wherever the data are, I want to go! My major scientific interests are in studying mechanisms related to genetics, especially in a basic biology context.
What is your biggest concern about the future of biomedical research careers?
I think the scientific community needs to be more concerned about the future of basic biology research careers. While biomedical research has a more direct application to improving our standards of living (e.g. studying how various drug treatments or gene therapies can help prevent heart disease, cancer, etc.), it is impossible to study what causes disease until we fully understand non-disease states. For example, we would not know that rapid and uncontrolled cellular division is a hallmark of cancer if we did not first understand the basic tenants of mitosis and meiosis. In the current state of generally decreased funding for scientific research, it is imperative to maintain adequate funding for researchers studying mechanisms of basic genetic and molecular biology.
What ideas do you have that could potentially improve these issues?
Obviously maintaining government and private funding for basic biology research is vital to ensure we don’t fall behind in this area. In addition, basic biology research labs would benefit greatly from more closely collaborative efforts between geneticists and biochemists (the “wet lab” folks) and computational biologists and statisticians (the “dry lab” folks). The exponentially increasing amount of biological data being generated is the raw material for making key scientific discoveries, but without the expertise of scientists able to organize and probe these datasets efficiently, we are not fully taking advantage of the insights they have to offer the scientific community.
Who is an “unsung hero” to you?
One of my biggest mentors is my thesis advisor, John Kim. His natural curiosity is infectious and has served as an inspiration for me to pursue research in a variety of areas. His commitment to and passion for conducting good, interesting research has instilled in me confidence in my own work. John has also provided me with opportunities to write and organize grants to fund my own research as well as to be a peer reviewer for major journals. John has pushed me to achieve all of the goals I set for myself during my graduate training, and I feel well prepared to pursue any career I wish.