Dr. Monica Wu has been awarded the 2018 Barbara Vivash Award for her PhD thesis, entitled "Characterization of two opposing small RNA pathways required for germline homeostasis in Caenorhabditis elegans". The Barbara Vivash award is given annually to the graduating student with the best PhD thesis in Molecular Genetics. Monica, second from the left, was presented with a certificate and a cheque following a Departmental seminar on her work on Wednesday, August 7, 2019.
Monica’s PhD studies, with Julie Claycomb, examined small RNA mediated gene regulatory pathways in the model nematode C. elegans. Monica contributed extensively to numerous projects in the Claycomb lab, including identifying novel gene licensing (instead of silencing) roles for an essential small RNA pathway, exploring the conservation of this licensing small RNA pathway in different nematode species, and defining the roles of a conserved splicing factor in germline small RNA pathways. In her most important and extensive work, Monica characterized a new Argonaute effector (Argonautes are the proteins that interact with small RNAs to elicit gene regulation), which she named VSRA-1 (Versatile Small RNAs Argonaute). In these studies, Monica uncovered novel roles for VSRA-1 in distinct small RNA pathways, including the miRNA and piRNA pathways. This observation redefines our understanding of Argonaute function and points to far more dynamic roles for Argonautes throughout development than previously appreciated.
Monica is now a Research Scientist I at New England Biolabs in Ipswich, MA, where she continues to study RNA biology. At NEB, Monica is developing novel enzymes, reagents and toolkits for rapid large-scale synthesis of homogenous RNA populations to be used in biopharmaceuticals, including RNA-based therapeutics, vaccines and diagnostics.
Picture credit: Julie Claycomb