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Dr. Janet Rollins
By Erin Walsh

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Janet Rollins is drawn to flies like the said insect is drawn to honey.

Much of her research at the Mount and at Rockefeller University centers on the cell and developmental biology of male and female germcells in the fruit fly Drosophilamelanogaster. She first began researching fruit flies as a doctoral candidate at St. John’s University in Queens, under the tutelage of her professor Dr. Chris Bazinet.

“I thought I wanted to do molecular biology at first, but after doing a rotation in Dr. Chris Bazinet’s lab, I realized cell and developmental biology was much more interesting and exciting,” she says.

“The lab studied male fertility, but one of the mutants I was working with was female sterile as well, and I learned all about both developmental systems. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is a wonderful model system to study this process. There are many molecular tools often free to the research community and 65 percent of the genes in the fly are the same as in humans with a lot less redundancy of genes. If you knock out the only gene in flies, you can study the role of that gene directly.”

Besides being a prolific researcher, she also mentors outstanding science students and helps them to secure competitive research internships that make the more attractive to top-tier graduate programs.

Q: What does your research entail?
A: My current research project is studying the role of the post-translationalmodifier SUMOin sperm development.When our genes get transcribed into messenger RNA and then the message is translated into proteins, often those proteins are not in their active form until they are modified. This is sometimes necessary for various developmental processes to occur. The small ubiquitin-like modifier (SUMO) is a tag that decorates proteins, which will either activate or de-activate the protein orchestrating the proper development of the tissue. I just presented my research at the 53rd Annual Drosophila Research Conference in Chicago, where it was well received.

Q: Describe your relationship with Rockefeller University and what you do there.
A: In the spring of 2008, I received a two-year visiting professorship grant from the American Society of Cell Biology, Minorities Affairs Committee (MAC) that allowed me to perform summer research in a prominent scientist’s lab. The first summer, I went to the University of Toronto to work in Dr. Julie Brill’s lab studying a biochemical pathway and its role in development. This turned out to be a ‘fruitful’ experience, leading to three publications in top tier journals. The next summer, I worked in Dr. Patricia Morris’ lab on Manhattan’s Upper East Side at Rockefeller University’s Population Council. Dr. Morris is an expert in mammalian and human fertility. The SUMO project started in this lab; since it has been shown in humans that SUMO is reduced in males with fertility problems, we have been examining the mechanism of how SUMO affects sperm development in flies because there is only one SUMOgene and three in humans, allowing us to isolate the gene. I have done work with Rockefeller University for three summers, and in the summer of 2010, two of my research students from the Mount, Astrid Estevez ’11 and David Guerrero ’11, worked as paid interns and gained invaluable research experience.

Q: You have mentored many high-achieving science students.How do you get the best out of your students and help themto realize their full potential?
A: I know that my passion for research and science can be contagious and the students catch the bug. We attend research conferences regularly, where the students present and sometimes win awards for their presentations, such as David Guerrero ’11 and Ana Uruena ’11, who earned top honors nationally for their work. This is a great experience for the students. It not only allows them to perfect their presentation skills, but it also provides them with the opportunity to network with other graduate and undergraduate students.

Q: What’s your favorite aspect of teaching at the Mount?
A: The diverse student population is important to me. Growing up in New York City, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the size of the Mount; I worked at St. John’s University for many years, which has more than 10,000 students. The small size of the Mount makes for a much better, more intimate learning environment. Students have the opportunity to participate in research because they are not competing ith graduate students for precious research slots. The students are wonderful, hard-working kids.

Q: What would you ultimately like to accomplish from your research?
A: Biology and chemistry are becoming less isolated and more integrated, which leads to important collaborations with scientists in diverse fields. Collaborating with other scientists gives my students and me the opportunity to learn and grow as a scientist. As scientists, we learn fromthe past work of other scientists through the literature. My ultimate goal is to contribute to the body of knowledge of science. Training students in the field is and always will bemy true goal as a science educator. As a colleague of mine once said,“I am not here to win the Nobel Prize, but to train the next Nobel laureate.”

The following individuals have graced the pages of our publications when they were standout undergraduates. As Mount alums, they are successfully forging their paths in the sciences.

Alexandria Bobe ’11, Ana Uruena ’11, and Albert Bararwandika ’10 are carrying on the tradition of achievement that they began at the Mount, in Chicago, Texas, and in New York City.

After graduation, Alex enrolled in a post-baccalaureate program at the University of Chicago. She is currently deciding which university she will attend to pursue doctoral studies in molecular and cell biology, after being accepted to Brown University, Columbia University, University of Chicago, and University of Texas Southwestern.

“The Mount has helped prepare me by always supporting and encouraging me to be successful and instilling a solid science foundation that I was able to build upon during my research experiences,” she says.

Ana is currently studying for her Ph.D. in genetics and developmental biology at the University of Texas Southwestern.

“Thanks to the guidance and support I received at the Mount, I got into a top graduate Ph.D. program and am holding my own just fine,” she says.

Albert is currently a medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“The Mount was key to getting where I am today,” Albert says.

“Before I came to the Mount, all of my education was in French, so having small classes and professors who took their time to give me extra attention helped me get through college successfully.”