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Kanishk Jain PhD standing outside

Kanishk Jain PhD
Current Title: Postdoctoral Fellow
BCBP Lab: Brian D. Strahl Lab
Years affiliated with BCBP: 2018-present

Kanishk Jain at a conference standing by his research posterWhat projects are you currently working on?

The two main areas of research I’ve been exploring in the Strahl have both stemmed from trying to understand how a particular family of histone PTM-binding proteins (plant homeodomains; PHDs) interact with histones and nucleosomes in a complex, multivalent environment. Through classic biochemistry and enzymology, I’ve shown that histone H3 tail acetylation is required for H3 K4 methylation both in vitro and in vivo. This explains many correlative observations on H3 acetylation and H3 K4 methylation in the transcription field. Furthermore, I’ve set out to thoroughly characterize the binding properties and regulatory properties of a particular PHD-containing protein, PHRF1. Over the years, I’ve used a multi-omics approach to implicate PHRF1 in the regulation of transcription and DNA damage response. All of these efforts have led to many interesting new questions about chromatin biology, which I’m excited to explore in my own lab at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, starting January 2025!

What was your background before coming to BCBP?

I came to UNC and the BCBP department after having earned my PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from UCLA in Los Angeles, CA. Though raised on the east coast (northern Virginia), it was still a bit of an adjustment to the climate and pollen after five years in LA! At UCLA I characterized the enzymatic mechanisms of a class of protein arginine methyltransferases (PRMTs), which is what sparked my interest in epigenetics and chromatin biology. In undergrad at UVA, I worked in an X-ray crystallography and initially wanted to pursue a career in structural biology at UCLA. Although I didn’t quite go that route, I’m still ultimately driven by the actions of atoms and molecules!

What motivates you to do what you do?

Kanishk Jain PhD standing outside

As cliched as it may sound, the thrill of discovery is hard to beat. Especially when there’s potential for your discoveries to some day help society. I enjoy experimenting, learning new techniques, and contributing to the larger scientific community. I get excited every time I get an unexpected result and want to talk people’s ears off about it (I’m sure Brian could comment on the number of times I pop into his office every day!).

What have been some of your best experiences with BCBP?

My favorite experiences with the department all involve some sort of communal event/effort. Whether it is a department retreat, happy hour, or even attending a practice talk for a graduate student or postdoc, I am encouraged by the collaborative and collegial atmosphere of the department. It’s so helpful to have a wide array of expertise in the department and to be able to just pop over ask people for help (thanks Cook lab and Kuhlman lab folks in particular!).

Kanishk Jain with his clarinet standing next to another musician on a stage with a band in the backgroundDo you have any advice for current or future trainees at BCBP?

As I’m transitioning to starting my own lab, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. The best advice I can give to a trainee in the department is advice I’ve found most useful to me. Learn to fail fast and actively seek out advice and mentorship, even outside traditional organizational structures. For the first, what I mean is, it is important to develop a sense of judging when a project has reached a practical end versus whether it’s worth pursuing. Time is the most valuable resource we have. Learning to use it efficiently is something I’m still working on and I think everyone will benefit from. Second, while as trainees we have clearly defined mentors and hierarchical mentoring structures, it’s important seek out new perspectives and advice from outside said structures, whether that is other PIs, peers, etc. I’ve been fortunate enough to benefit from the collective wisdom from across the department during my faculty job search and I can confidently say that without a diverse pool of mentors and advisors, I would not have been successful.

What are your favorite activities out of the lab?

Outside of the lab, I have three main passions. Music, fountain pens, and plants. I’ve been playing clarinet and saxophone since elementary school and after moving to Chapel Hill started playing clarinet and tenor sax with the Triangle Pride Symphonic and Jazz Bands, respectively. These bands are LGBTQ+ plus friendly community bands in the Triangle and very welcoming to people of all skill levels! I’m going to miss playing with them but hope to continue in Minneapolis. Anyone who’s seen me write knows that I exclusively use fountain pens. I collect all kinds of fountains pens as part of my larger obsession with penmanship and stationery! And finally, plants. I have a LOT of plants. At home I have >200 different species. Please talk to me about getting some plants before I leave!