I graduated from the University of Sheffield where I studied an MBiolSci in Biochemistry and Genetics, completing my master’s year in industry. During my master’s year I worked at Eli Lilly studying aggregation of the microtubule associated protein tau, with specific focus on Alzheimer’s disease. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in industry where I enhanced my research skills in a professional setting and expanded my experimental repertoire learning techniques such as tissue culture and biological imaging. This PhD project I found particularly interesting as it allowed me to continue investigating proteins in a new exciting area, with phase separation being a mechanism by which enhancer regulation of gene transcription can occur. At the interface between biology and chemistry, with a bit of physics thrown in, the cross functional nature of this project really interested me; allowing me to not only advance within my area of knowledge but also expand into other areas of science.
Phase separation is a term used to describe the formation of a condensate due to a high concentration of proteins and nucleic acids compared to a dilute environment. Condensates are analogous to membraneless organelles and have been described to be involved in multiple processes such as chromatin organisation, providing an explanation for many processes that were previously poorly characterised. Phase separation has also been observed at the enhancer regions of genes; where enhancers are cis-regulatory elements that control gene expression and are able to elevate the transcription of target genes. This project investigates the presence of condensates at the enhancer regions of genes; specifically studying which RNA binding proteins, such as CREB binding protein, and enhancer RNAs can form condensates and how being in a phase separated state affects their function. I will be using a combination of biochemical tissue culture techniques and FRET to probe these interactions and understanding the implication of condensates. Understanding the effect of phase separation will provide important insight into fundamental cellular processes, and will present understanding of how this may influence diseases such as Huntingtons.