About Pol2 condensates in muscle cells and huddling dynamics of penguins
Get insights from Haneul Yoo, a Postdoc at MPI-IE, Cissé Lab, on cutting-edge muscle cell studies. Discover her journey from art-centric family to biochemistry, and her views on teamwork in science. Dive into her favorite task - reading diverse papers, including penguin huddling dynamics. Join the conversation on women thriving in science in 2024!
Tell us a little bit about your research project here at the MPI.
Right now, I'm involved in a couple of different projects, but the one that I like to focus on is studying muscle progenitor cells, and understanding the relationship between Polymerase 2 clusters, gene regulation, and epigenetic changes in these cells – especially in the context of cell development. Muscle development is studied for decades, and a lot is already known about how this system works. Now what we are doing is bringing all this cutting-edge technology like live cell super-resolution imaging, to try to answer questions that were unable to be answered back then because we didn't have these techniques. And I just found muscles really interesting. They're just weird. Usually, cells have one nucleus. But when muscle progenitors develop, they fuse to each other, and then they become this long one cell with many nuclei, and that eventually becomes our muscle fiber. But what is also true that I came here without background in none of this. My PI Ibrahim was invited to a muscle society conference. Ibrahim also knew nothing about muscle, but they were interested in Ibrahim's technique and what this super-resolution live imaging can do. So, they invited him as a keynote speaker. He slacked us in the middle of the conference, like, hey guys, I think muscles are super cool. It's very well characterized, but there are questions that they are not addressing or not even thinking of addressing because of the lack of these techniques. I think we have a really good angle to approach this. And then he was like, anyone interested in it? Then I basically raised my hand. Now, the more I studied this, the more I read about this system, I think the more excited I get. So other projects died, and then this one survived.
When you look back at your career, what inspired you to go this route?
I think there wasn't a single point where I thought, oh, I want to be a scientist. It was more of an exploration and a continuous search and path. Because my parents, they both went to art school. So, they had nothing to do with science. Biology always puzzled me. In chemistry, physics, you memorize certain rules and then you can apply rules and that's it. But in biology, there seem to be no rules. Every case is different. Biochemistry appealed to me because it's like you're studying biology from an angle from chemistry using your chemical knowledge. And then I had to think about what can I do as a job if I study this. I was very a shy person at that time and I thought, if I become a researcher then I'll be know alone in a white room with a white coat, write a paper, publish it and that's it. That sounded like something I can do, so I joined a research lab and then and quickly learned that science is a teamwork. You have to work a lot with your team and also from other people in your community. But fortunately for me, the first lab I joined was a really, really nice lab. I was mentored by my first woman PI who was very into teaching and education. I think I was really fortunate that I had that really good first lab that showed me sience and teamwork can be fun. So I kind of want to do this continuously. I want to continue being in this community. So, I continued and continued.
What should a good lab have to start your research career?
I think it's different for different people. For example, when I say I had a really good lab when I started, I remember the following story: During the first experiment I did with my mentor I made a dumb mistake and I was really devastated when I realized that because I wanted to impress these people. They accepted me into this lab and gave me this opportunity and I then made the dumbest mistake on the first sight. In the first five seconds after the incident I was thinking: maybe I’m not suited to be a scientist, maybe this is not for me. Then the professor walked by and looked at it and she was “Like that's okay that's how you learn”. And I still remember what she said.
When you think about your normal work week, what of the different tasks you do is your most favorite in science?
For me, I like reading papers, actually. I like reading papers because I think there's just so many interesting sciences and I like to read very broadly. One of my favorites at the moment is this work by a physicist studying the phase transition of emperor penguin huddling. So, the researchers went to this icy region and recorded videos of penguins. But they also measured different temperatures. And then they, very elaborated, measured the wind speeds to actually calculate the temperature that penguins feel. And then they plotted how much they huddle as a function of temperature. It turns out, when it's warm, penguins are spread around like gas molecules. When it becomes really cold, they become very compact, like solid. They even found like a transition temperature at which 50% of penguins huddle as well as elaborated on the impact of global warming. Here you can see how cool science could be and there are so many people doing all these interesting topics and approaches and I have to pick just one, unfortunately. However, I hope and believe that reading broadly will help me to stay creative. I'm super convinced that this is very important to have open eyes and see other aspects of the world to improve the old stuff.
Last question you're quite new to Germany. What have been the biggest challenges to land here and to get more or less settled?
To be honest, I'm very glad that I moved here for a Postdoc. It feels very international and lively.I could only think of one big challenge since I moved here and that was finding housing, which I think applies to everyone including German people. It is challenging to live in a foreign country where you can’t really speak the language. But it's also, I think, it is an opportunity to grow as a person and learn. In my free time, I travel a lot, explore Germany and different regions. I also study German and read for fun. Recently, I joined this online book club. These are Koreans who've been living in Germany for like 20 or 30 years and who are super fluent in German or Korean students studying in German universities, but it's all throughout Germany. And in this club, we read and talk about different books. Through this book club, I learned which books are required reading in German high school.