The Scientist profiles MBL Fellow Daniel Colón-Ramos of Yale School of Medicine, who is dedicated to understanding how neural connections (synapses) are formed and relate to behavior. Colón-Ramos frequently collaborates at the MBL with Hari Shroff of the NIH and Patrick La Rivière of University of Chicago.
By Claudia Lopez-Lloreda
As a Harvard undergraduate, Daniel Colón-Ramos explored the forests of Panama and Honduras, listening closely as indigenous people described how they use medicinal plants to treat ill individuals. The interactions, he says, left him with many more questions than answers. “The questions that kept coming to my mind were molecular questions about what the bioactive agents were and how they worked,” he says. Sitting there in the forest, he realized he wanted to contribute knowledge to science, instead of just learning facts.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in biology in 1998, he moved to Duke University, where he began a post-baccalaureate program that gave him his first experiences at the lab bench. “That was transformative in my ability to imagine myself as a scientist,” he says. He then applied to and was accepted as a PhD student at Duke, where he joined the lab of Sally Kornbluth, who studies cell suicide, a process called apoptosis. Colón-Ramos identified viral peptides that inhibited translation of RNA into host cell proteins that would otherwise induce apoptosis, revealing a potential mechanism that viruses use to continue their cell-to-cell spread.
Those experiments, together with attending talks and reading papers outside of his comfort zone, helped Colón-Ramos pinpoint what sparked his scientific curiosity: how cellular organization shapes the way an organism behaves. Read more …
Photo credit: Christopher Beauchamp