Computational Biology / Genomics - Research Associate

Milana, Research Associate at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), describes her work and shares a typical day.

What biotechnology program did you attend? 
Mesa Community College, Arizona State University (ASU)

What degrees / certificates did you obtain?
A.A.S. in Biotechnology
B.S. in Molecular Biosciences and Biotechnology from ASU

What you do for your job?
I work as a research associate with the Computational Biology Division at TGen. Cancer is the primary target of our research. In particular, we are interested in the mechanisms of cell death.

As a research associate, I am assigned an individual research project, for which I perform information mining (i.e. reading a lot of scientific papers) and experimental setup. I also gather data for my project. Depending on the stage of the project, I either analyze the collected data by myself or direct the data to our bioinformatics experts for more complex mathematical analysis. From a technical standpoint, I do a lot of work with tissue culture and at the bench. I use my aseptic techniques when working with live cells, and I also use various molecular biology techniques when cloning promoters of interest into expression vectors.

What are some techniques that you commonly use?

  • Tissue culture
  • stable transfection of human cells,
  • preparation of assays in 384-well format for live-cell imaging,
  • RNA/DNA extraction and purification,
  • PCR,
  • recombinant lentivirus preparation,
  • subcloning into expression vectors,
  • restriction digests 
  • gel electrophoresis

Please describe an average day:
Tissue culture comprises the bulk of my average day. In addition to general maintenance of human cancer cell lines, I use cells for various experimental essays including packaging of fluorescent promoter-reporter lentiviral constructs, stable infection of cell lines with the constructs, plating the cells on 384-well plates, subjecting the cells to various stimuli and observing behavior of the cells under those stimuli.

The rest of my day is dedicated to producing fluorescent promoter-reporter DNA plasmids using molecular techniques such as cloning into expression vectors, recombination, PCR, restriction digest and gel electrophoresis.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in a biotech career?
If there is a good biotechnology program in your local community college, I would recommend starting your training there. My experience at Mesa Community College was very positive. The program was initiated by very enthusiastic and talented faculty members who put tremendous effort in creating a highly competitive educational venture. MCC graduates are readily hired for their substantial hands-on molecular lab experience and solid theoretical knowledge. I would also like to mention additional benefits of starting at a community college: possibility of university transfer and lower cost of the programs.

  • Designing plasmid constructs
  • The Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix
  • Monitoring cells expressing green fluorescent protein