November 07, 2019
When Jade Enright first arrived last summer at Yale University’s molecular biology lab, she was a little unsure of herself. True, she was among only 7 percent of some 5,000 applicants accepted into the Amgen Scholars Program and had been chosen by Yale professors to assist in their research.
But she soon discovered she could hold her own among the other Amgen undergrads in the lab who were all from schools bigger than McDaniel. In fact, she excelled in journal club class where they read and discussed journal articles.
A senior Molecular Biology major with a strong Chemistry minor, Enright worked in a graduate molecular biology lab overseen by a Yale professor and staffed with four post-doctoral fellows, four Ph.D. students and a lab manager. Her research project focused on what is necessary for proper formation of Cajal bodies, areas within the nucleus of a cell where small RNA is processed into protein.
“Basically DNA is transcribed into RNA, which is processed into protein that carries out the cell functions. Think of DNA as a recipe book, RNA as a photocopy of the recipe and protein as the pie or what the recipe makes,” says Enright, an Honors student who knew even in high school that she didn’t want her passion for science to lead to medicine. “But there are other, small RNAs that are processed so that they can help bake the pie. If the small RNA isn’t processed then there are cellular defects.”
During her 9-week research experience, she inserted mutant protein in cells, then stained and fixed the cells on slides. She classified the cells based on their shape and noted what happened as a result of the mutant protein.
“It was cool to see the different mutations,” says Enright, from Cumberland, Md. “My research will contribute to a paper the lab researchers are working on and it’s so exciting as an undergrad to be published on a paper like this.”
She learned new lab techniques and gained valuable lab experience. Her confidence soared, especially when other researchers in her lab tried to recruit her for graduate school.
“I really felt like I fit in at Yale,” she says, explaining that it will definitely be on the list of schools she considers. “The entire experience helped me feel more confident going into grad school.”
While ultimately eyeing a career as a small college professor, Enright wants to conduct research in industry first — focusing as of now on RNA therapeutics, finding ways to sequester RNAs in diseases from being translated into proteins and therefore preventing them from carrying out their job. At McDaniel she’s already written a paper about using a particular RNA for Alzheimer’s therapy.
“There have been a lot of important discoveries in RNA biology recently, such as the existence of the small RNAs I mentioned before,” Enright says. “This means that there is still much more to uncover in terms of their function and how we can use them to improve human health — a lot more fascinating research to be done, which I am excited to see and hopefully contribute to.”