Monday, April 24, 2023

Navigating Intersecting Identities: An Unconventional Journey to RNA Science and Neurobiology

12:00 PM to 1:00 PM

Med Sci I, M3330

This event is presented by the Cellular & Molecular Biology (CMB) DEI Taskforce.

As a Black boy, growing up in Kentucky during the late ’80s and 90’s, I rarely, if ever, saw anyone that looked like me occupying professional spaces – in my classrooms, at the doctor’s office, or even on television. I had no idea how this lack of representation in these spaces would have such a profound impact on my identity or my perceived potential to succeed.

Throughout my K-12 experience, I became very passionate about science and curious about how the natural world worked. Now, I often wonder whether my initial curiosity about science and the world had more to do with my trying to understand where I fit into the grand scheme of life. Thus, my improbable journey to science has been one of both personal and scientific discoveries.

My science journey starts at a small liberal arts college near my hometown, Eastern Kentucky University; however, my dream was  always to go to a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to participate in the rich history that has been vital to the education of so many African Americans. After my undergraduate degree, I opted to attend Clark Atlanta University (CAU), a well-known HBCU to pursue my Ph.D., thus fulfilling this dream. Shortly after completing my Ph.D., I joined Anita Corbett’s laboratory at Emory University for my postdoctoral training, where my journey to RNA biology and molecular neuroscience began. During my postdoctoral work, I studied the in vivo biological function of a conserved and ubiquitously-expressed post-transcriptional RNA processing complex, the RNA exosome, and how disease-linked alterations in this complex cause neurological disease.

Collectively, my life experiences and scientific training not only drive my passion to identify and pursue compelling biological questions that advance human health but also empower me to engage and inspire a new generation of diverse students to pursue careers in science. Now in my own independent lab, the primary goal of my research program is to study the fundamental mechanisms of post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression with an emphasis on RNA processing factors mutated in complex brain disorders. Specifically, we are interested in the post-transcriptional activities of the RNA exosome in human neurodevelopment and disease. Thus, we have taken the strategy of coupling in vivo Drosophila genetics with in vitro 3D human iPSC-derived brain organoid models to understand how defects in subunits of the ubiquitous RNA exosome complex cause neuronal dysfunction.

Derrick J. Morton, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences