Published January 6, 2021
Joseph Terrell Smith Jr., PhD, postdoctoral fellow in microbiology and immunology, has been awarded a three-year, $202,000 F32 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study the regulation of RNA in Trypanosoma brucei.
Trypanosoma brucei is the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness, which is spread from person to person by the bite of the tsetse fly.
“I specifically study how the parasite edits certain RNA molecules in each of its life cycle stages. These RNA molecules are used to make proteins that help the parasite produce energy for its survival,” says Smith, principal investigator on the study.
He aims to discover how the parasite regulates RNA editing during its life cycle, especially the infective stage of the parasite that humans pass on to infect new flies and, in return, the infective stage that infected flies pass on to humans.
“If we understand how the parasites regulate RNA editing in these infective stages, then we can move one step closer to preventing infection in endemic areas,” Smith says.
When he was interviewing for a position in Read’s lab, Smith was initially interested in another project. However, the opportunity to study RNA editing in the infective stage that is passed on to humans piqued his interest.
“It was this project that made me decide to come to UB. Once I was here, Dr. Read provided the intellectual space to think about the project, expand it, and allow me to take ownership of it,” Smith says.
“Dr. Read has allowed me to mature as a scientist and to begin developing my own research ideas that were distinct from her own,” Smith adds. “She has been preparing me to launch forward to the next step of establishing my own research program and I am grateful for her support and genuine mentorship.”