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Kathryn Gunn headshot 2022

Name: Kathryn H Gunn, PhD
Current title: American Heart Association Postdoctoral Research Fellow
BCBP Lab: Saskia Neher Lab
Years affiliated with BCBP: 2017 – present 

What projects are you currently working on? 

I’ve tackled a couple of projects during my time in the Neher lab, but the unifying force has been understanding how the quaternary structure of LPL (lipoprotein lipase) can help regulate its activity. I have solved structures of both active and inactive forms of LPL – and my next adventure is looking at the structure of LPL inside of vesicles using cryoelectron tomography. I hope to use this work to launch my own research lab identifying and characterizing other enzymes that regulate their activity by oligomer formation.  

Kathryn Gunn with Poster

What was your background before coming to BCBP? 

I came to BCBP from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL where I did my PhD in Biological Sciences. I worked in Alfonso Mondragon’s lab developing a new single molecule technique to study topoisomerases. I loved my time there, but it was nice to move back to NC – especially since I grew up here and my family still live nearby. Of course, that’s the opposite of how it went after high school, when I was eager to go out and explore, so I did my B.S. in Chemistry and English at Caltech in Pasadena, CA. And, yes, I did double in English – book nerd alert. The interplay of protein structure and mechanism have been the centerpieces of my scientific journey and I’m excited to see what I’ll discover next.  

What motivates you to do what you do? 

I love the feeling of discovering something. I find it motivating when my research surprises and confounds me, since that challenge keeps me engaged and passionate about my research. Troubleshooting and figuring out solutions to all the daily problems I run into in lab, as well as mentoring students in these techniques, keeps the daily work fun and interesting to me. My PI, Sasky, likes to joke that I have 2 soldering irons and will take apart anything in lab to try and fix it. But it’s not quite true – I’m down to only 1 soldering iron. 

Kathryn H Gunn at a microscope toolWhat have been some of your best experiences with BCBP? 

I have been with BCBP for a little over 5 years now and I love how collaborative everyone in our department is and how willing they are to take time and talk to you about questions from imaging vesicles to domain swapping. Since covid there have obviously been changes in our departmental socializing, but I’m excited we’re getting back to in-person events and those monthly bagels really did keep me going during the pandemic.  

Kathryn Gunn at farmDo you have any advice for current or future trainees at BCBP? 

I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I can positively impact future BCBP postdocs in my role as the chair of the postdoc committee. One thing that stands out is that it can be incredibly helpful for postdocs to find mentors outside of their PI. I’m lucky to have several BCBP faculty on a mentoring committee that I can gather advice from. After grad school there isn’t a formal mechanism for a thesis style committee, so it’s up to you as a postdoc to go out and make it happen. It’s hard work, but worth it! Having a variety of people to consult with different expertise and viewpoints has been essential for figuring out my career plans and the direction of my research. 

What are your favorite activities outside of lab?

I lead a scifi/fantasy book club at a local bookstore – Flyleaf, which is a ton of fun! I also love traveling and hiking – especially in national parks.

Dr. Gunn has more exciting news to share about a recent award she received in an upcoming issue. Stay tuned.