Gia Voeltz is changing the way we look at the machinery of life.
The thrill of studying cells’ nuts and bolts drew her in while working in the molecular biology lab of HHMI Professor Manuel Ares, Jr. at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Voeltz investigated RNA, the genetic material that gets translated into proteins. She found an unexpected home in laboratory life. “I just loved it,” she says. “I loved the discovery side and I loved the social aspects – it was wonderful.”
Her PhD research took Voeltz to Yale University, where she worked with HHMI Investigator Joan Steitz, a pioneer in the RNA field. By the end of Voeltz’s graduate work, she had been in the RNA world for years. “I thought I would never leave,” Voeltz recalls.
But the final 10 minutes of a departmental seminar spurred a surprising career shift. Harvard Medical School cell biologist and HHMI Investigator Tom Rapoport had spent most of the hour talking about how proteins traverse the ER, or endoplasmic reticulum, the organelle responsible for protein manufacturing and shipping. Then Rapoport said something surprising: that nobody had any idea how the organelle actually formed. If anyone wanted to study that, he said, they should let him know.