The Graduate School has awarded Meera Gupta a Harold W. Dodds Fellowship, an honorific fellowship that covers tuition and includes an unrestricted stipend for one year. Honorific fellowships go to outstanding graduate students who have completed their general exams. A total of 27 were awarded this year.
Gupta, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in chemical and biological engineering, studies protein levels in cells and has developed technologies to measure how those protein levels correspond to cell function.
“Meera has completely transformed my lab’s research direction,” said Martin Wühr, assistant professor of molecular biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, and Gupta's adviser.
She joined Wühr's lab as one of his first graduate students in 2016. Five years later, her ambition to undertake some of the toughest questions in molecular biology has helped shape the lab's future.
“Already now, three undergraduates and three graduate students are building their research on Meera’s work, ” Wühr said. “Moving forward, I estimate that at least half of my lab’s resources will be dedicated to research initiated by Meera’s graduate studies. ”
Scientists believe differences in cell type and function depend on how much protein is in the cell and how that protein is expressed. But it's not clear how those processes work. Gupta developed a statistical framework to determine how much protein is in a cell, then leveraged that work with a new technique to measure protein turnover (cellular replacement of old protein).
During the two years it took to develop the protein-measurement technique, Gupta also uncovered key insights into the bacteria E. coli’s behavior when under duress. She found evidence that an E. coli cell breaks down its own cytoplasm when it needs nitrogen, but it digests protein from neighboring cells when it needs carbon. Gupta and Wühr are currently working to publish their findings—the eighth paper Gupta has published since starting graduate school and her third paper as first author.
In addition to her research, she has mentored both undergraduates and fellow graduate students during her time in Wühr's lab. She received her bachelor's degree from the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, and she hopes to return to India in the future to start her own academic research lab.