A Thought-Provoking Topic on Food

In the lab of biology professor Adam Martin at MIT, Juana De La O, a graduate student, is conducting research on neural tube closure, a crucial process in the development of the spinal cord and brain. She compares this process to the folding of puff pastry in a croissant, where layers and structures are formed. However, when neural tube closure fails to occur, it can lead to devastating birth defects. De La O emphasizes that the mechanisms governing neural closure are not well understood, and her research aims to shed light on this process.

De La O, a native of Chicago, pursued her undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago and worked in the lab of Ilaria Rebay. She is the first person in her family to pursue a PhD. She was drawn to MIT because of its stimulating scientific environment, where students are passionate about their studies and engage in scientific discussions organically.

When De La O received her acceptance letter to MIT, she was particularly moved by a handwritten note from Amy Keating, the head of the department. This gesture solidified her decision to join the lab of Professor Adam Martin. Despite facing challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic, De La O remained motivated by her love for baking and her determination to make a difference in the field of biology.

De La O’s research focuses on the use of actin and myosin proteins in studying the formation of the neural tube in mouse embryos. By analyzing the structure of these proteins, she hopes to gain insights into the forces and tensions involved in tissue folding. Although her current analyses are based on fixed samples, De La O plans to analyze live samples in the future to verify her findings.

In order to enhance her skills and knowledge, De La O has sought collaborations with other researchers. She has traveled to the University of Virginia to learn live imaging techniques and has established connections with experts at University College London for further training.

While De La O is passionate about her research, she acknowledges the importance of balancing her responsibilities as a PhD student. She has also been involved in promoting diversity in academia but knows the value of focusing on her own achievements to create opportunities for others in the future.

De La O’s training in the Martin Lab has prepared her for a career in academia. Her thesis work involves laying the groundwork for future research in a new model. Professor Martin believes that this project will help develop De La O’s leadership skills and prepare her for a future as a principal investigator.