Ankur Jain Explores RNA Aggregations in Neurodegenerative Disease | The Scientist

Gretchen Ertl, Whitehead Institute
Ankur Jain and Ron Vale published one of the first papers linking phase separation in cells with neurological disease (Nature, 2017), research that was nucleated during the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Summer Institute at MBL (2013-2017).

Ankur Jain didn’t always know he wanted to be a biologist. During his undergraduate studies at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, he originally focused on engineering, but soon realized that he wasn’t actually that interested in understanding how human-made things work. Instead, he wanted to study the mechanisms that make things tick in the natural world, he says. Jain ended up graduating with a degree in biotechnology and biochemical engineering in 2007, and moved to the United States to pursue his doctorate in biophysics and computational biology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

During his PhD, Jain focused on developing better techniques to study what proteins do in cells. “The machines inside the cell—the proteins—they often act in conjunction. Maybe one protein alone does not do its task, but [it does when] it’s bound to something else,” he says. “The question is, what is it working with? What are its partners in crime?”

One method for determining protein partners is a pull-down assay—anchoring one type of protein to beads in a column and identifying which other proteins bind to, or are “pulled down” by, it. But this technique runs into difficulty when proteins have multiple partners.

To fix this problem, Jain led the effort to develop a single-molecule pull-down (SiMPull) assay in which protein A is attached to a slide, while proteins B and C are tagged with fluorescent peptides. By overlaying fluorescent microscopy images of single-molecule resolution, this technique can determine whether protein A can bind to B and C at the same time, or only separately. Jain later used this technique to study the components of mTOR complexes, which play important roles in normal cell growth but also in many diseases, including cancer.  Read the full story from The Scientist.