A DAY IN THE LIFE: DR VICKI GOLD

A DAY IN THE LIFE: DR VICKI GOLD

DR VICKI GOLD, BIOCHEMIST AND ELECTRON CRYO-MICROSCOPY SPECIALIST

A DAY IN THE LIFE: DR VICKI GOLD, BIOCHEMIST AND ELECTRON CRYO-MICROSCOPY SPECIALIST

Dr Vicki Gold is a senior lecturer at the Living Systems Institute at the University of Exeter.  Vicki is a biochemist and electron cryo-microscopy specialist interested in protein transport across cell membranes.  Vicki’s research is focussed on three main topics: protein import into mitochondria, bacterial motility driven by type IV pili, and viral infection of bacteria.

We meet Vicki to learn more about this specialist field.

What’s your research background, and what attracted you to move to Exeter?

The opening of the interdisciplinary Living Systems Institute at the University of Exeter in 2017 attracted me to move back to the UK from Germany. I was given the exciting and challenging opportunity to set up a brand new in-house electron cryo-microscopy (CryoEM) lab from scratch, the first of its kind in the region. I am also from Devon originally, and never thought that I could work in such a specialised field in the place where I would most like to live - the opportunity was just too good to miss! 

What are your main tasks each day?

My daily tasks are very varied. In my first year in Exeter, I have been completely engrossed in the set-up of the new lab, applying for funding and recruiting the staff to join my team. Now that this phase has passed, I am able to spend more time on experiments, writing papers and further grant applications, and discussing project ideas and results with my group - the most exciting part! I also teach Biosciences to undergraduates, supervise students, and have various management and committee type roles.  

 

What is CryoEM, and how does it support your research?

CryoEM, or electron cryo-microscopy, is an imaging method that enables visualisation of a sample (in our case biological material) at a resolution where we can see individual proteins and determine their “atomic” structure. The 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three scientists who developed cryoEM for high-resolution structural determination. We employ an electron microscope operated at cryogenic temperatures, which unlike conventional room temperature electron microscopy, means that samples are kept frozen and hydrated, without the need for any fixatives or stains that would otherwise obstruct molecular detail. Our in-house 120 kV cryo-microscope is at the cornerstone of our research. It is used to automatically collect high-throughput data of our samples of cells or isolated proteins.

How is the cryo-EM funded?

Our in-house microscope is funded and run by the University of Exeter,  but it acts as a feeder facility for the GW4 Regional Facility for CryoEM in Bristol, of which we are also a major part. The timing here was extremely fortuitous - colleagues in Bristol and we here in Exeter were both awarded large Wellcome Trust CryoEM equipment grants and through the GW4 Alliance (with co-investment from Bath and Cardiff), we were able to jointly purchase a 200 kV cryo-microscope with the latest generation of camera (called a direct electron detector), that enables even higher resolution imaging. In practice, this means that preliminary data collection, sample screening, and data processing is performed conveniently in-house, and if necessary, higher resolution data can be collected at our joint regional facility.     

What are the eventual societal benefits of your research?

 

As I work on a number of different topics, the benefits of my research are wide-ranging. For example, our work on mitochondria will lead to a greater understanding of mitochondrial diseases associated with protein transport. Work on bacteria is geared more towards understanding how microbes move within our environment and exchange genetic information, a key factor in the build-up of antibiotic resistance and development of pathogenicity.

What is your favourite aspect of the job?

The excitement that stems from getting results that really help our understanding of fascinating and intricate biological systems.

What would you say to someone interested in a career in bio-sciences?

If you love biology, it is a rewarding, interesting, and varied job that keeps you mentally stimulated and challenged. Some work experience in a lab environment would be a good idea to find out if it is the right career for you.

www.exeter.ac.uk/livingsystems

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