By Priyanka Chatterjee, Postbac in the Pathogen Molecular Genetics Section of the Laboratory of Bacteriology
On May 21, 2020, Jonathan Wilson Yewdell, M.D., Ph.D. presented (virtually) at the NIAID Postbac Research Seminar Series – an opportunity for NIAID postbacs to engage with principal investigators (PIs). Dr. Yewdell is the chief of the Cellular Biology Section of the Laboratory of Viral Diseases. Priyanka Chatterjee, NIAID postbac in the Pathogen Molecular Genetics Section of the Laboratory of Bacteriology, reflects on the latest seminar and captures the useful advice shared by Dr. Yewdell.
“Find an interesting problem, and never give up on trying to solve it,” Dr. Yewdell’s advice emanated from my laptop speakers as he gave the seminar virtually. “I found a problem and have been studying it for 45 years!”
His lab works to understand host immunity against viral infections. Soon after a viral infection, host immune cells present small virus peptides on MHC Class I molecules, so CD8+ T cells can recognize and destroy the foreign bodies. The question Dr. Yewdell has been exploring is, “how are these peptides generated?”
The answer may lie in defective ribosomal products, or DRiPs. The DRiP hypothesis postulates that the peptides derive from defective proteins produced by the virus, which are rapidly degraded intracellularly. Dr. Yewdell continued his talk by describing instances of DRiPs that his lab identified and the methods of their search. The examples of potential DRiPs were discovered through creative thinking and outside-the-box experiments, which began to explain why they were so hard to find.
“In fact, I believe that a hypothesis is an excuse to do an experiment, especially if it’s wrong.” After he finished talking about his research, Dr. Yewdell began giving career advice. His practical tips are useful for trainees at all stages. He mentioned the articles titled “How to succeed in science” that he wrote for Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology. The articles give a clear and concise overview of what to expect as a fledgling scientist in the current biomedical landscape.
Dr. Yewdell’s talk was captivating; his commitment to helping trainees was immediately apparent. In fact, he was practically DRiP-ing with enthusiasm!