In 2021, the Institute launched a new video series called Scientist Stories where we highlight the scientists behind our world-leading research. In this series, we discover more about what they do and how they got to where they are now. In this latest edition, we chat to Adam Bendall, a PhD student in the Rugg-Gunn lab, about his area of research, his journey to becoming a PhD student, his latest publication and more. Watch the video on our YouTube channel or read the profile below.
What is your role at the Babraham Institute?
I am a PhD student, so I am working towards becoming a doctor. I am in my final year at the moment. It’s a four-year programme and a lot of my role is predominantly in research science, so conducting experiments, collecting data, analysing the data and then ultimately putting together all of my work in the form of a thesis that will be assessed at the end of my PhD when hopefully I will become a doctor before moving onto other things.
What is the area of research you work in?
It is a field called epigenetics, so for those of you that don’t know this is about how genes are often regulated and how DNA is regulated independent of the sequence itself. So the sequence that you inherit from your parents isn’t responsible for a huge amount of what your genes are doing. There’s an added layer of regulation on top of that, and that is epigenetics and that is a lot of what I study specifically in human stem cells. They make a really nice system in which we can study things like the regulation of early human development and what is going on at the level of epigenetics in itself.
What is your background and how did you get to this point in your career?
I am from quite a small town in the Peak District called Matlock, so I went to a very ordinary comprehensive school and I had very good science teachers who instilled an enthusiasm for science in me. I did my A levels in biology, chemistry and maths and from that I went on and did an undergraduate degree in biochemistry. Something I found during the course of that degree was that I am more of a biologist than a chemist, which I think was a very useful thing to learn. I really liked just the learning, picking up new techniques, working out what things were happening in different systems and how they worked. During my undergraduate, I completed a few internships in the lab across the summer which I really enjoyed and that sort of encouraged me to apply for a PhD, which is what I have ended up doing for the past three and a half years.
What are your interests outside of science?
Growing up in the Peak District, I’m quite an outdoorsy person. I like being out in nature walking the hills, even though there is not so many around Cambridge where I am based. I like watching films, hanging out with friends, board games and things like that. That is how I would spend a lot of my time.
If you could share one piece of advice with those considering a career in science, what would that be?
I would say that you should work hard and I think also you should try and get some experience at any level which is going to help. In school, it might help you get into university for example, and all these things look really good on your CV. Also, by getting the experience, you will actually find out whether you enjoy it or not and I think that is the most important thing really is that you actually find a fulfilling thing to do.
What is your latest publication called and can you summarise what that means?
So the paper is called ‘genome wide screening identifies polycomb repressive complex 1.3 as an essential regulator of human naive cell programming’. Basically, the project is interested in human pluripotency. This is the ability of a cell to form many different cell types and stem cells are commonly known as being pluripotent. Stem cells are very interesting for this reason that they form lots of different cell types, but there isn’t one definitive stem cell, there is actually a few different states. My project specifically focuses on what we call the naïve state of pluripotency which models quite an early stage of human development in a cell culture dish. It is probably one of the best ways, given how difficult it is to work with human embryos compared to say a mouse, to look at the pre-implantation stages of development, so the first ten days of an embryo after fertilisation.
What we wanted to look at was how we can make these naïve stem cells in culture, which we typically do through this process called reprogramming. We wanted to find out what genes were required for reprogramming. To do that, we performed screening methods across a huge number of genes and identified a particular complex that we were interested in and confirmed that it is important in producing naïve stem cells.
What does having this paper as a PhD student mean for you and your next steps?
So I’m in the final year of my PhD now so the next steps for me having gotten the paper out is working towards finishing up experiments that I’d like to do that are peripheral to the paper itself. Once I feel like I have a complete body of work, I will be taking it and writing it up as my thesis. There will be a very lengthy introduction where I put what I have done in context of previous literature and the wider field. I will share the methods I have been using, and then I will describe and discuss what I have found and what it means. All together that forms a thesis.
Going on from that, I will be looking for a job where hopefully the paper helps me to be a competitive candidate.
Image description: Adam Bendall
Scientist Stories: Adam Bendall video
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21 June 2022