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Meet our speakers: Josh Gendron

January 23, 2024
by Suet Yin Sarah Fung and XJ Xu

Dr. Gendron visited from across campus

Meet The Speakers: Joshua Gendron

Joshua Gendron is currently an Associate Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at our very own Yale University. Ahead of his talk as part of the Cell Biology department seminar this coming Tuesday, 22nd Jan, we had the opportunity to correspond with Prof Josh Gendron where he shared about his current research and scientific journey along with some heartening anecdotes.

Could you give us a breakdown of what your lab is currently working on?

My lab works on daily and seasonal timing mechanisms in plants. We started by investigating ways that the ubiquitin proteasome system is used by the circadian clock to impart rhythmicity on downstream biological processes like growth and cellular heath. During this process, we recognized that some of the gene we were studying are regulated seasonally, becoming highly expressed in winter photoperiods. This was interesting to us, because we know very little about what types of genes and cellular processes are induced in winter to help plants maintain cellular health. From this initial observation, a whole new world of seasonal biology opened up to us. We discovered that there are many genes controlled by the seasons in plants, and that there are multiple seasonal measurement systems working in parallel. This is particularly important, because these mechanisms evolved to predict climate and climate change is altering our seasons rapidly, making it critical that we understand how plants will respond to these changes.

Indeed, you have made many discoveries on understanding molecular mechanisms driving plant growth and development from brassinosteroid signaling to transcriptional networks and degradation mechanisms controlling the circadian clock in Arabidopsis. Can you talk about a discovery that you are particularly proud of or is the most memorable for you?

There are a few times that I remember as exciting or enlightening, but I will just mention a recent one. Our most recent work is opening up a new world of seasonal biology. For the last century studies of seasonally regulated processes in plants have focused mostly on flowering time, and it was thought that the seasonal measurement system for flowering can account for the totality of seasonal processes in plants. We have now shown that plants have many seasonally regulated cellular and developmental processes, but they also have multiple seasonal measurement systems that work in parallel. This means that organisms can “look” at a natural day cycle and be experiencing two different seasons simultaneously.

Going down memory lane for a bit now. Did you always want to be a scientist? Was there a certain event or person that inspired you to become one?

When I was in college, I wanted to be a park ranger. By chance I ended up taking a plant molecular biology lab course that was taught by five of the most prominent plant biologists in the world. One was Dr. Joanne Chory, and when the class was over she offered for me to work in her lab. I accepted and worked in the lab for about a year. She then suggested I think about going to graduate school, but I knew very little about PhD programs or how to get a PhD, so I said I had a job lined up to be a park ranger. She told me that I could be a park ranger with a PhD. She then coached me and helped me get into the Stanford Biology PhD program, and since then I continued in academic science with park ranger as a backup.

What is your philosophy towards approaching scientific problems?

My philosophy is to maintain a balance of exploratory science with deeper mechanistic science. When the lab started at Yale, we began with a reverse genetic screen that was intended to discover new post-translational connections between the circadian clock and biological processes. While I didn’t know what we would find, I was confident we would be able to identify some interesting new biology. Even now, we are actively performing unbiased genetic screens in parallel with mechanistic studies of the systems we have discovered, keeping one foot in the world of exploration.

What is your overall style/approach in mentoring students and scientific trainees?

I believe that all students and trainees have strengths and areas that they can improve. For each trainee, I try to identify these quickly so that we can capitalize on the strengths and work on the other areas together. This means that I don’t stick to one mentoring style.

What is the most hilarious, memorable and/or ridiculous event that has happened in your lab?

My most memorable event is when my first graduate student, Dr. Ann Feke, showed me the results of her first successful experiment. I really liked doing experiments and seeing “my” results when I was a student and postdoc, but I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy being the PI rather than the one doing the experiments. When Ann came to my office excited about her results, I felt even happier than when I did the experiments! I was excited for her, but also proud that I could help her achieve that milestone. It still feels great to see the excitement of the people in the lab when they get an exciting new result.

Are there any traditions that the lab shares as a group?

We have a funny in lab tradition which is to name our growth chambers. We often will have growth chambers that are paired so we give them names like, Hulk and Banner, Sith and Jedi, etc.

My other favorite lab traditions are the annual trip to Lake Compounce amusement park and out annual holiday party. These are memorable times where the lab gets to hang out socially.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I spend a lot of time with my kids. We like to swim, go to amusement parks, go to the Yale Lake, play videogames together, and lots of other fun stuff. I also play soccer every weekend with friends and jog with my wife.

Finally, where do you see yourself in ten years?

I see myself right here! I just got tenure! I hope to be running the lab and sending the kids off to college and grad school. For the lab, I think we will still be studying timing mechanisms in plants. I think there is so much more interesting to learn!

Submitted by C. Patrick Lusk on January 24, 2024