First Person is a series of interviews with the first authors of a selection of papers published in Journal of Cell Science, helping researchers promote themselves alongside their papers. Carolyn Davis is joint first author on ‘ Light-activated BioID – an optically activated proximity labeling system to study protein–protein interactions’, published in JCS. Carolyn is a PhD student in the lab of Sanjeevi Sivasankar at the University of California, Davis, USA, where she is developing tools to investigate how protein interaction networks at cell junctions change under differing conditions and how this can play a role in diseases like cancer.

Carolyn Davis

How would you explain the main findings of your paper in lay terms?

To form tissues and organs, cells bind together using complex webs of protein interactions. These interactions are required to build and maintain tissues, and problems with these processes play major roles in many diseases, such as cancer. In this paper, we've created a light-activated tool called light-activated BioID (LAB) to accurately map protein interaction networks at cell junctions. Building on previous advances in protein labeling technology, we have attached the split proximity labeling enzyme split-TurboID to two proteins that fuse when exposed to light (CIB1 and CRY2), giving the researcher near complete control over the labeling process. We anticipate that LAB will provide unprecedented insights into cell junction protein behavior and disease mechanisms.

When doing the research, did you have a particular result or ‘eureka’ moment that has stuck with you?

In the early stages of this project, there was a long road to determine the proper design and conditions for LAB to successfully label adjacent proteins. After hitting on the correct design, I will never forget the first moment I saw strong, bright labeling on the cell membrane, exactly where it should be, through the microscope viewfinder. It made me feel like our work to optimize LAB would all be worth it.

Why did you choose Journal of Cell Science for your paper?

We wanted our proximity labeling tool to reach an audience of people who work with both cells and proteins, for whom determining protein interaction networks would greatly benefit their research. With its large, diverse readership of researchers all coming together to focus on cells, we felt Journal of Cell Science was the best avenue for our tool to reach its target audience.

Who are your role models in science? Why?

I credit Bill Nye (the Science Guy) with significantly influencing me as a child to pursue a life in the sciences, and his boundless enthusiasm for all things science inspires and motivates me to this day. His fun methods of making scientific information accessible to children (doubtlessly kicking off an entire new generation of scientists in all fields) taught me that, even more than huge, earth-shattering scientific revelations, sharing knowledge is the most important part of scientific advancement.

What's next for you?

I will be working on my graduate thesis.

Tell us something interesting about yourself that wouldn't be on your CV

I am a hobby naturalist and enjoy looking for diversity in life where some people might not think to. I was able to observe and identify nearly 50 different species of spiders and insects around the outside of my lab's building this past summer, and I look forward to finding more as the seasons change.

Carolyn Davis's contact details: Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


C. M. O.
Light-activated BioID – an optically activated proximity labeling system to study protein–protein interactions
J. Cell Sci.