First Person is a series of interviews with the first authors of a selection of papers published in Journal of Cell Science, helping early-career researchers promote themselves alongside their papers. Chaoyu Fu is first author on ‘ Cooperative regulation of adherens junction expansion through epidermal growth factor receptor activation’, published in JCS. Chaoyu conducted the research described in this article while a PhD student in the labs of Virgile Viasnoff and Michael Sheetz at the Mechanobiology Institute, National University of Singapore. He is now a postdoc in the lab of Yan Jie at the National University of Singapore, investigating mechanosensing and mechanical stability of membrane receptors.
How would you explain the main findings of your paper in lay terms?
We found that the formation of initial cell junctions speeds up the subsequent junction formation in suspended cell aggregates. This relies on the activation of EGFR upon junction formation, which distally regulates the actin turnover dynamics of the cell cortex. The faster expansion of the subsequent new junctions results from the ‘primed’ actin cortex.
When doing the research, did you have a particular result or ‘eureka’ moment that has stuck with you?
The most impressive moment I remember is the night I sat in front of the microscope and realized that the suspended cells form with different speeds in terms of their aggregated sizes. After that night, I intentionally measured the junction expansion speed and compared the speed between suspended cell doublets and triplets. That's where the story comes from.
Have you had any significant mentors who have helped you beyond supervision in the lab? How was their guidance special?
In our lab, I have been fortunate to benefit from supportive interactions with senior students. Their patience and passion have been a great learning opportunity for me. I have always discussed my projects with them and asked them stupid questions to overcome my technical limitations. They were always happy to listen to my problems and help me figure things out, even with the non-scientific aspects of graduate studies. The culture in the lab encouraged me a lot.
Who are your role models in science? Why?
My two supervisors, Michael Sheetz and Virgile Viasnoff, inspire me with a passion for science. Mike is super enthusiastic about science. In 2018, our graduate student committee hosted a student conference that invited graduate students from all over the world to join. Mike was quite happy about our organizing the congress and participated in our activities during the whole day. Virgile has another style. He taught me to be brave and confident in presentations, in exploring science and also in facing life’s difficulties.
Tell us something interesting about yourself that wouldn't be on your CV
I am quite interested in the natural world. I like to go hiking and birdwatching during my leisure time.
Chaoyu Fu's contact details: National University of Singapore, T-Lab, #10-01, 5A Engineering Drive 1, Singapore 117411.