PhD Spotlight: Jason Derks, PhD’22, Bioengineering
Jason Derks began pursuing his PhD in bioengineering in 2017, eager to lead a synthetic biology project with the skills he developed as a research technician in the years prior. He found an early mentor in Joseph Ayers, affiliated faculty, bioengineering, who generously gave Derks freedom to develop a research project to engineer a strain of baker’s yeast for real-time chemical sensing; the proposed research and preliminary results were presented as a poster at RISE:2019.
Two years into the program, Derks’ research took a different direction as he joined the laboratory of Associate Professor Nikolai Slavov, bioengineering, who served as his primary advisor and mentor for the remainder of his PhD. In the Slavov laboratory, Derks’ research focused on developing new methods for high-throughput proteomics and using them for quantifying the proteomes of single nuclei from macrophage cells responding to bacterial antigens. The aim of this project was to study protein translocation with submolecular resolution and understand its contributions to the innate immune response of macrophages.
To quantify proteins, Derks used liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS), an approach which, though powerful, limited the number of samples he could analyze. Thus, his first project on the Slavov team focused on increasing the throughput of LC-MS analysis by multiplexing samples as proposed by Slavov. This side project became Derks’ primary dissertation research, and developed into a technology he would call “plexDIA,” which he published in Nature Biotechnology in 2022. Since then, he has authored a perspective in the Journal of Proteome Research about plexDIA and presented his work at the American Society for Mass Spectrometry.
Derks has since continued his work as a postdoctoral researcher, using plexDIA to analyze the proteomes of single nuclei at high throughput to investigate heterogeneity of protein translocalization, and looks forward to applying high-throughput proteomics in industry.