Biology Graduate Student Recognized for Outstanding Achievement

Graduate student Sofia Quinodoz has been awarded the Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The award recognizes "outstanding achievement during graduate studies in the biological sciences."

"This is a well-deserved award that is a testament to Sofi’s extraordinary scientific achievements during her graduate career," says Quinodoz's advisor, Professor of Biology Mitchell Guttman. "Sofi has all of the characteristics of the very best scientists—she is thoughtful and creative, persistent and hardworking, and is willing to do whatever it takes to chase down a lead. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to work closely with Sofi over the past few years."

Quinodoz studies how human genomes are organized in the nucleus of different types of cells. A cell's nucleus is a space about 50 times smaller than the width of a human hair, but it contains six feet of genetic material consisting of about 20,000 genes. These genes are compacted to fit inside the nucleus, requiring complex DNA folding and organization.

Recently, she developed a novel method to map out the contents of cell nuclei in three dimensions. She and her collaborators found that genomes are folded together in precise ways. Specifically, she discovered that genes of similar functions or shared activity are spatially arranged around large structures in the nucleus called nuclear bodies. The method Quinodoz developed, called SPRITE (Split-Pool Recognition of Interactions by Tag Extension), measures interactions between thousands of molecules within these large structures and can measure both DNA and RNA interactions simultaneously, while previous methods have only been able to examine DNA. Using SPRITE, she and her collaborators revealed that specific sets of DNA sites are organized around two RNA-containing nuclear bodies in both mouse stem cells and human lymphoblast cells.

"SPRITE has enabled us to identify novel inter-chromosomal interactions occurring around large nuclear bodies that were previously missed," Quinodoz says.

At Caltech, Quinodoz was also involved in the Graduate Student Council as a diversity chair and advocacy chair. In those roles, she promoted increased recruitment of female and minority scientists to Caltech’s graduate programs. She was also awarded the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Studies and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program Award. She and the other 12 Weintraub awardees will participate in a scientific symposium honoring biologist Harold Weintraub on May 3, 2019, at Fred Hutchinson's Robert W. Day Campus in Seattle.

Written by Lorinda Dajose