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Welcome to the culture club

Welcome to the Culture Club
Ph.D. student Jackie Lo and USC Davis assistant professor Sean Curran

Science requires a laser-like focus in one’s chosen discipline, but even the most dedicated of researchers benefits when breakthroughs are shared.

To help foster an interdisciplinary environment among scientists and students inside and outside the USC Davis School of Gerontology, assistant professor Sean Curran started a monthly Biology of Aging Journal Club.

“The biology of aging is a multifaceted discipline. This journal club will facilitate collaboration among different research groups and is an excellent opportunity for students to practice their presentation skills,” Curran said. “I hope that it allows students to see a new aspect of their work, that it excites them and that it sparks deeper conversation of these topics.”

Over lunch, a student from one of the gerontology labs prepares a presentation describing a scholarly article and then leads a discussion of it. For the first session, lab member Jackie Lo, a second-year Ph.D. student in molecular biology, discussed a Science article on paternal mitochondria.

“This article caught my attention because it sought to explain a biological process I never thought twice about: the fact that our mitochondria are maternally inherited,” Lo said. “It is known that paternal mitochondria disappear after fertilization, but no one knew how this happened. The authors propose that autophagy, a process that the cell uses to degrade its own cell components, plays an important role in this degradation.”

According to Curran, the topic was pertinent to the field of aging because mitochondria has a role in modulating metabolism, stress and survival while autophagy plays a key role in the aging process as well. His hope is that these sessions will allow students to become better-rounded scientists, scholars and speakers.

“We graduate students can never have too many opportunities to practice speaking and giving presentations to the scientific community, whether it be on our own research or on the research of other scientists,” Lo said. “It’s always important to remember where our work fits into the big picture and to be aware of other amazing discoveries that are being made.”

Attendees had the opportunity to question Lo after her presentation and to debate various talking points among themselves. The interactive, collaborative nature of the club even helped inspire participants whose interests are outside biology.

“It’s always a pleasure hearing about what other students and researchers are studying,” said Cameron Chalfant, a gerontology junior who focuses on policy. “The Biology of Aging Journal Club is a perfect way to broaden my knowledge base and to connect with fellow gerontologists of all stripes.”

Added Curran: “The more people who show up, the better the discussion. The study of aging is multidisciplinary, and although we focus on the biological concepts, the forum is open to anyone.”

The club’s next meeting is scheduled at noon on March 14 in room 224 of the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center.

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