Up next in the Graduate Student Spotlight, we highlight Dr. Rahamthulla Shaik, who recently defended his dissertation, “Chloroplast division protein ARC3: Effects on FtsZ2 assembly GTPase activity”.
I grew up in a small town near Hyderabad, India. While I was in high school, I became very interested in life sciences and my teachers encouraged me further to pursue biological sciences. I received my BS and MS degrees in Biology in India and then moved to USA for further graduate studies. I pursued MS in Biotechnology at West Virginia State University. During this program, I had an opportunity to take courses in cell biology and was introduced to the fascinating field of the cytoskeleton. My master’s thesis research was focused on understanding the stress induced cytoskeletal remodeling in smooth muscle cells. After completing the MS program, I accepted a research position at Massachusetts General Hospital and continued my research career working on various biomedical research projects before moving to Texas A&M University to pursue PhD program in Biology. During the graduate program here at A&M, I am glad that I had an opportunity to perform excellent research, as well as develop critical thinking and teaching skills. Outside of lab, I spend time with my family and friends and read about interesting stories on recent developments on space exploration. I would like to settle in a future position that integrates both research and teaching.
What are your research interests? What are the big picture questions you want to investigate?
My current research is focused on the structural and functional characterization of ARC3, a key protein regulating the chloroplast division. Chloroplasts are derived from cyanobacteria via endosymbiosis and divide by binary fission. The division site is marked by the assembly of FtsZ proteins into a ring shaped structure called, Z-ring. FtsZ is a structural homologue of tubulin, an essential constituent of eukaryotic cytoskeleton. The selection of division site in chloroplasts is regulated by a macromolecular complex called “Min system”, which is essential to achieve the symmetric division and produce daughter organelles of equal size. ARC3 is the central component of the chloroplast Min system that directly interacts with FtsZ. The long term goal of this research is to understand the molecular mechanisms of ARC3 mediated modulation of FtsZ assembly and the coordination of Min system with FtsZ to achieve symmetric division.
What advancements do you see on the horizon in your field?
Chloroplast division is not yet fully explored compared to bacterial cell division. Bacterial cell division has been very well studied and major regulatory mechanisms that govern the placement of division site, constriction and separation of daughter cells have been reported. While most of the studies in chloroplast division have been confined to in vivo approaches, further studies employing a combination of in vitro and in vivo methods utilizing biochemical and biophysical tools including electron microscopy, crystallography, and confocal microscopy would be very helpful to dissect the mechanisms underlying the chloroplast division and further advance this field.
What persuaded you to join Dr. Holzenburg’s lab?
While I was pursuing the master’s program in Biotechnology, my research was focused on actin cytoskeleton and cytoskeletal proteins. Confocal microscopy and electron microscopy are invaluable tools that are commonly used to study actin cytoskeleton. I had some exposure to confocal microscopy during the MS program but didn’t get an opportunity to learn electron microscopy. When I was rotating in Dr. Holzenburg lab, I felt that the research on chloroplast division was very interesting and also provided me a chance to get a grasp of confocal and electron microscopy tools. I have used many different techniques for my research including electron microscopy, confocal microscopy, protein purification by liquid chromatography and single particle analysis for 3D reconstruction of protein structure. My lab is located in the interdisciplinary life sciences building (ILSB) and I was attracted to all of the great research resources as well the opportunity to discuss research with other graduate students from diverse backgrounds in ILSB.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered as a graduate student, and how did you deal with it?
The first year of the graduate program was very challenging as I had to do course work, rotations, and teaching. With careful planning and time management, I could successfully take care of all of these tasks. Although the first year schedule was very hectic, I feel that it helped me gain the necessary multi-tasking skills.
What are your future plans, now that your tenure as a graduate student is coming to a close?
I plan to continue to do research and currently looking for post doc positions. But I’m also interested in teaching and ultimately would like to choose a career that has both teaching and research components.
What advice would you give to new graduate students?
Pay attention to both the choice of your research and the lab environment while choosing a lab after performing rotations. Do not jump into conclusions just based on one rotation. I recommend to do two or three rotations and consider all of the factors before choosing the lab for dissertation. Another advice would be to share and discuss your research with other graduate students, as this may generate new ideas to address your specific research question.
What courses have you taught, and what specifically did you do in your classes to enhance student learning?
I taught Introductory Biology and Human Anatomy & Physiology at Texas A&M University. I also taught General Microbiology at WVSU. I like to interact with students and encourage them to ask questions and make sure they are really getting the concepts. I also tell students clearly what to expect from the class and provide guidance to succeed in the class.
If you had the opportunity to develop an undergraduate course, what would it be?
I would like to develop a course that introduces both light and electron microscopy to undergraduate students. The goal of this course would be to teach the basic principles and provide an overview of the diverse applications of these indispensable tools in biological and biomedical research. This course would benefit students planning to go to medical schools as well as those aiming to perform basic research.