Researcher of the Month
Major: Biochemistry, Class of 2022
Research Mentor: Dr. Elizabeth Boon, Chemistry
Gaurav Sharma is a Biochemistry major in the Honors College, and the recipient of the Kenneth M. Nicholas Undergraduate Research Fellowship – an award given annually to an outstanding URECA applicant involved in research in the Chemistry Department.
If you ask Gaurav what he enjoys most about doing research, he’ll tell you it’s all about creativity: “... improvising, trying to find what's going wrong and improve on what you are doing. I think doing this is something that takes initiative and it's something that I’ve never really experienced before. This creative aspect , this is the best part of being in this lab, when you can say “Oh, I found this out…”
Since February, Gaurav has been working in the laboratory of Dr. Elizabeth Boon, studying virulence and biofilm formation in Pseudomonas aeruginosa, in particular researching the connection between the NosP/NaHK pathway and quorum sensing pathways. Recently, Gaurav made the decision to join the combined B.S./M.S. Degree Program in Chemistry, which will allow him to continue on with his research in the Boon group; after completing the Master’s program, Gaurav plans to pursue a medical degree.
Gaurav first gained research experience as a Bronx High School of Science student working in the Dephoure Lab at Weill Cornell Medical College, NYC, where he learned basic mass spectrometry data analysis. Gaurav was eager to do research also at Stony Brook, and joined the Matus group (Biochemistry & Cell Biology) during his sophomore year, but his ongoing research was disrupted in 2020 due to COVID restrictions.
On campus, Gaurav has been involved a Writer/Peer Reviewer for Stony Brook Young Investigators Review, as a Red Watch Band CARE Team member in the Center for Prevention Outreach, and as a member of the Phi Delta Epsilon International Medical and the South Asian Student Alliance. Since the start of the year, Gaurav has also worked at Stony Brook Medicine as a COVID Vaccine POD employee who aids in registration and data entry, and has also aided as a COVID Testing Observer. His hobbies include playing basketball and videogames. Below are excerpts of his interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen : Tell me about your research project.
Gaurav: In the Boon lab, we’re looking at Pseudomonas and biofilm formation. So Pseudomonas is a bacteria that causes cystic fibrosis and has been associated with ventilator associated pneumonia . Pseudomonas is able to successfully infect a patient because it can create a biofilm to protect itself against the immune system and antibiotics. Understanding the mechanism of action behind the maintenance and dispersal of biofilms is clinically relevant to treat patients because biofilm dispersal would aid in clearing persistent biofilm infections in patient’s lungs.
In Pseudomonas , biofilm formation is regulated through the GacS multi-kinase network. Two proteins that are involved in this pathway are NosP and NaHK. NosP is a nitric oxide-associated protein. When the bacteria are exposed to nitric oxide, NosP signals through the GacS pathway to promote biofilm dispersal. NosP does this by inhibiting the NosP-associated kinase, NaHK. The LasR and RhlR systems are regulated by RsmA, which is a global post-transcriptional activator involved in the GacS multi-kinase network. RsmA inhibits quorum sensing by activating transcriptional inhibitors of the quorum sensing genes. It is speculated that NaHK upregulates RsmA expression through its known interactions with HptB. When active, NaHK phosphorylates HptB, which it is known downstream to upregulate RsmA signaling. My project will work to establish the connection between NosP, NaHK and quorum sensing through the GacS pathway, mainly through RsmA.
How did you first get involved with the Boon lab?
So I'm actually very new to the lab. I started in February, at the beginning of the spring semester. I’m planning on applying to Medical School after taking a gap year, and I recently decided that I wanted to pursue a Master’s degree in chemistry. I began looking at different labs in the Chemistry Department that I could join so that I could do my Master’s thesis. The research that the Boon group was conducting interested me the most due to the clinical relevance and novel ideas. Dr Boon responded very quickly and gave me an opportunity to join her lab. I feel that I got really lucky to join the Boon group.
What do you enjoy most about being in the lab?
What I like the most is the creative freedom. This isn't something that I’ve experienced a lot before, in my previous lab experiences in high school, or even in my sophomore year. … Now, at this stage as a junior going into senior year, I find there's a lot more opportunity for me to take the initiative when something isn't working . It's up to me to come up with an idea to try to figure out what's going wrong and improvise based off of that. So that's what I like – that you’re not just following directions, but are improvising, trying to find what's going wrong, and always improving upon what you are doing. I think doing this is something that takes initiative and it's something that I’ve never really experienced before. This creative aspect, this is the best part of being in this lab--when you can say “ Oh, I found this out” and, you basically put your name to something out there, something that's actually important.
Are you planning to build on this summer project’s work for your senior thesis in the Honors College?
Yes, that's the goal. Right now, we’re trying to build the foundation. And the work will also prepare me for going into the master's thesis eventually.
You mentioned that you had done research in high school.
Yes, I went to the Bronx High school of Science in New York City, and did research in Weill Cornell under Dr Dephoure. At the time, I didn't really know what to expect. But I learned a lot, about how to communicate, and I’ve continued to be drawn to research.
Tell me a more about the atmosphere in the Boon lab.
Right now, I mostly work with a graduate student, Alicia Mendoza, who is my mentor. She has been teaching me new things and she's the one that's basically pushing my knowledge forward … explaining and teaching me how to design primers for PCR. It’s been a gradual buildup of knowledge. I feel like you get a new perspective though working with all the PhD students in the lab. They kind of put a sense of responsibility on you, and you realize that you need to start thinking for yourself, and be actively involved in the problem solving.
What have you learned from being involved in research?
To do research, you have to have persistence, because there's going to be a lot of things that go wrong. So you should make sure that you're it dedicated to it because it takes a lot of time, and you're going to have to learn from your mistakes. But it’s a really great character building environment. You just have to make sure to put your full effort into it, and make sure that this is something that you really want to do.
What would you say you is different about what you learn from doing research vs. what you learn your classes?
You actually get to apply a lot of things you learn from classes. I actually never thought it would happen to the extent that it does. But for example, with PCR, when you learn about it in Biochem 2, it all sounds so simple. But then, when you actually do the PCR and you're following all the directions, you find out that it doesn't work all the time and you have start improvising …making improvements to how you’re doing things. That's what they don't teach you in class, what you don’t really see until you’re doing the work.
What is the biggest challenge of doing research?
Time management is definitely a factor, especially during the semester when you have to juggle your class time with studying for tests, extracurriculars, clubs or if you have a job. Or studying for MCATs. You have to have very good planning skills because not everything can be done on a random schedule: sometimes things need to be done on one day after another, or you might have to do certain assays or reactions in 16 hours exactly. So you have to really plan your time and make sure that you can meet all your deadlines.
That’s why I am glad that I’m doing URECA now because that gives me basically the whole summer to do lab work. Without the URECA support, I didn't know if I was going to be able to come here over the summer. And I wouldn't have had this much time to go in, day after day, to work on my project, so it was a really good thing for me that I got into URECA.
Any advice you’d like to offer to other students?
I would say, “Don't get discouraged.” Persistence pays off. When I was first sending out emails to faculty mentors asking about research opportunities, and it seemed like no one would respond to me, I thought it was over for me, but I just kept going because I knew that all I really needed was one person to respond to me. I knew that if I met with them, my drive and my passion would come across, and I hoped that I could convince them or persuade them to let me learn from them. I just needed a chance. It’s luck at the end of the day- but I think if you have motivation and research is something you truly want to do, you should keep trying.You'll get your break eventually. You just need one person, that's what I see.