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Meet a Whitehead Postdoc: Anh Nguyen

By March 31, 2022April 5th, 2022No Comments

Anh Nguyen is a postdoc in Whitehead Institute Member Ankur Jain’s lab studying molecules in soil-dwelling amoebae that, in humans, can contribute to neurodegenerative diseases. We sat down with Nguyen to learn more about her and her experiences in and out of the lab. The Jain lab is generally interested in repeat expansion diseases, such as ALS and Huntington’s disease. These are caused by expansion of CAG nucleotide repeats—basically a long string of CAGs in a row. These CAG repeats code for an amino acid called glutamine, so they’re also called polyglutamine expansion disorders. I study an organism called Dictyostelium discoideum, which is a very small, single-celled organism living in the soil that has a lot of polyglutamine tracts. The reason why it’s interesting is because polyglutamine is usually toxic in humans, and long strings of polyglutamine repeats cause diseases in humans, but then this organism has a lot of long polyglutamine tracts and is fine. The questions I’m pursuing are, first of all, why are the polyglutamine tracts not toxic in this organism? And second, why does this organism need so many of these polyglutamine tracts?