Once Samara Reck-Peterson was introduced to molecular motors, nothing could keep her from figuring out how they work.
In her lab at the University of California, San Diego, Reck-Peterson studies dynein, one of two families of proteins that move cellular components along microtubules, the cell’s internal highways. Dynein and its counterpart, the kinesin family, keep the interior of cells orderly and functional, ensuring that hundreds of molecules and organelles arrive where they need to go. That’s critical for human health, as many neurological disorders result when cellular cargoes get waylaid. And there are plenty of ways things can go wrong, because moving an organelle or a sac of neurotransmitters across a cell entails multiple steps. Reck-Peterson wants to understand them all.
In some ways, Reck-Peterson says, it’s surprising that she’s become so engrossed in cell biology, because her rural Minnesota high school didn’t offer much science. But her parents encouraged her curiosity, and once she got to Carleton College, she seized the opportunity to work in a biology lab and was hooked. “I got to experience trying to discover something new, and I just wanted to keep doing that,” she says.