Elizabeth Villa, Ph.D.

Title
Assistant Professor
Department
Section of Molecular Biology and Division of Biological Sciences
Institution
University of California, San Diego
Address
9500 Gilman Drive
MC 0377
City, State, Zip
La Jolla, CA 92093
Phone
(858) 246-1843
E-mail
evilla[at]ucsd.edu
Website
http://villalab.ucsd.edu
Research Field
Biophysics
Award Year
2017

Research

My lab is working to develop the tools needed to view the precise conformation of chromosomes as they are packaged inside the nucleus of a living cell. Deep within the cell, DNA molecules are wrapped around nuclear proteins and folded into structures that unfurl and recondense as the cell turns the underlying genes on and off. As a postdoctoral fellow, I developed a method for “micromachining” living cells to produce windows through which this dynamic nuclear architecture can be microscopically viewed in unprecedented detail. Now, combining this technique with advanced methods in molecular and computational biology and cryo-electron tomography, I will develop a set of “tags” that can be attached to proteins of interest, allowing me to visualize—at a three-dimensional, near-atomic level—the basic principles behind how we store and read our genetic information. These findings could eventually lead to the development of new methods to control gene activation—an ability that has potential therapeutic applications across a broad range of human disease.