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Joshua Boyer, a man by ocean and rocksName: Josh Boyer, PhDCurrent title: Research Associate, promoted to Assistant Professor in May 2023.BCBP Lab: Qi Zhang Lab

Years affiliated with BCBP: 2004-2009, January 2014 – present

What projects are you currently working on? 

I am currently using cryoEM, crystallography, and NMR to expand our structural understanding of the regulation of the cGAS/cGAMP/sting pathway, the dsDNA defense sensor of our innate immunity. Also, I use NMR to study RNA excited states and their role in microRNA biogenesis. I have multiple collaborations here at UNC where I can keep my protein-NMR muscles from atrophying, as well as add new weapons to my biophysical arsenal.

What was your background before coming to BCBP?

I was a Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow in Phil Bevilacqua’s laboratory at the Pennsylvania State University at University Park. My research focused on the development of a new model, protein–free spliceosome. Additionally, I studied RNA folding under physiological ionic/crowding conditions and worked to develop thermodynamic parameters for predicting RNA stabilities in-vivo.

Before Penn State, I was a BCBP grad student here–in the laboratory of Drew Lee–where I studied long-range communication in proteins as expressed in dynamic responses and energetic couplings. I used NMR relaxation measurements to monitor the perturbation in sidechain motions upon mutation. In addition, I showed that NMR-detected hydrogen exchange (HX) measurements could be used to monitor non-additivity in double mutant cycles with atomic resolution.

Prior to grad school, I was a Post-bac/Research Technician at Penn State College of Medicine in Ira Ropson’s laboratory studying protein folding–my first exposure to biophysics, NMR, and the starting point of my villian origin story.

What motivates you to do what you do?

Qi….just kidding, but his excitement is really quite contagious.

Science is unfailingly cool– though I am particularly drawn to structural biology. I can go down and hang out with Stu in the NMR core and look at how atoms in proteins or RNAs are moving or sense each other in space. Or, I can head over to see Josh Strauss in the CryoEM core and look at individual protein complexes. (I’m still getting the hang of crystallography, but Nate Nicely in the crystal core is great too.)  The way things have evolved to fit and work together is endlessly fascinating (or just plain bonker balls #WowintheWorld–formerly one of kids’ favorite podcasts.)

What have been some of your best experiences with BCBP?

In 2019, we started a fantastic collaboration with the McGinty Lab and the Cryo-core, then came CoVid. It was an all-hands-on-deck situation to get our Science paper out complicated by quarantine and many, many Zoom meetings, but we did it!

Do you have any advice for current or future trainees at BCBP?

Keep your mind open to new experiments and techniques. If you would’ve told me that I would be an NMR spectroscopist after organic chemistry in college, I would probably have laughed. If you would have told me that I would go on to work with RNA and nucleic acids after my orals in grad school– I wouldn’t have believed you. And, if you would have told me I’d be looking at protein interactions with the nucleosome/histones even 5 years ago, I’d probably believed you, but I certainly wouldn’t be able to tell you how I got there.

Try to be patient with yourself. In my experience, science has its own ebbs and flows. Don’t be afraid to go home a little early on a bad day, so that you can be ready for that good day that is coming around the bend and if you find yourself in a string of good days…squeeze every hour you can out of them. Most importantly, there’s no science without the scientist so take care of yourself and remember that mental and emotional health need tending as well. The scientific profession is a marathon, not a sprint. 

man with baby reading chemistry text book man with two children in yellow rain coats man with children on piggyback

What are your favorite activities outside of the lab? 

Hanging with my wife, kids, and dogs
Attempting to keep orchids/plants alive
The occasional Monday night Karaoke at Northside District
And sadly, the even less frequent exploring of golf courses…some people like to keep the ball on the fairway, me not so much.