Dr. Furqan Fazal

By Rui Fu

Dr. Furqan Fazal is an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine’s Therapeutic Innovation Center (THINC) in Houston, Texas. His lab is using biochemical, biophysical, imaging, transcriptomic, and computational approaches to “understand the grammar of RNA localization.” In particular, his team focuses on questions related to “how sequence elements cause RNA to localize to specific cellular locales, and how a cell, and by extension the organism, dynamically controls [RNA localization] in space and time.”  In particular, he highlights an exciting ongoing project showing the “dominant role of cytoplasmic dynein in coordinating the localization of transcripts to the outer mitochondrial membrane, with myosin V making a small but significant contribution”.

RNA biology came into focus for Dr. Fazal during his doctoral training with Dr. Steven Block at Stanford University, where he investigated transcription by RNA polymerase using optical tweezers. “Scientifically, the most challenging project I worked on was examining the eukaryotic pretranscription initiation complex (PIC) using single-molecule techniques. It took many years of trial and error, with no intermediate tangible milestones. But my colleagues and I kept trying.” He cherishes this as a trying yet invaluable experience. “I see challenges and failures as an opportunity to improve, (re)prioritize and to mature.” The experience also taught Dr. Fazal to realistically estimate the amount of time research can take. As he puts it, “multiply how long you anticipate [an experiment] taking by π or 2π”. Driven by an interest in transcriptome-wide mapping of RNA structures, he then joined Dr. Howard Chang’s lab for his post-doctoral fellowship, where his work on RNA structure in multiple subcellular locations blossomed into a passion in the broader function and regulation of RNA localization.

“There is a lot of trial and error, repeated failures, unforeseen obstacles, changing conditions, and ultimately a fair amount of luck and serendipity. But I live for the fantastic moments when everything comes together perfectly.”

Dr. Fazal credits his mentors for support and inspiration, and advises young trainees that a supportive mentor can be the key to cultivating and sustaining a long-term interest in science. He has long admired the passion and commitment of his mentors and other seminal scientists such as Dr. Barbara McClintock, Dr. Richard Feynman, and Dr. Roger Kornberg. “I would consider myself fortunate to find something I could be so passionate about.” He adds, “I get only one life, and it is a privilege to live on a ‘boring’ life-supporting blue planet. If I am not passionate or happy about what I am doing, whether in research or my personal life, I see no point in continuing. Better to stop doing what I am doing and start doing something else.”

Having just established an independent lab at Baylor College of Medicine in June of 2021, Dr. Fazal reflected on the difficulties of the past year. “Like almost everybody else, the pandemic was challenging for me. In addition to my postdoc research being impacted, the pandemic started in the middle of my faculty search, leading to delays and/or cancellation of job searches and a great deal of uncertainty. Fortunately, everything worked out in the end. Now at Baylor College of Medicine, things are slowly returning to normal, and I expect (and look forward to) more frequent in-person interactions.” He is grateful for the RNA community, many of whom he had the first chance to meet in person at the 2019 RNA Society annual meeting in Poland, for help and support. “I'm looking forward to attending the next in-person meeting. It’s exciting to hear about new and unpublished scientific discoveries!”

Outside the lab, Dr. Fazal enjoys photography and traveling. “I aim to take a few trips a year, either nationally or internationally, focused on either wildlife (mammals or birds) or landscape photography. In the future, I would like to do more underwater photography!” Explains Dr. Fazal, “For me, the pursuit of wildlife and landscape photography, in addition to being fun, has a lot in common with discovery and the quest for knowledge. There is a lot of trial and error, repeated failures, unforeseen obstacles, changing conditions, and ultimately a fair amount of luck and serendipity. But I live for the fantastic moments when everything comes together perfectly”.

Dr. Fazal’s favorite RNA is the glmS ribozyme/riboswitch, with Xist as a close second. He has also highlighted two favorite articles from the RNA journal, Miyagawa et al., 2012, identification of elements in MALAT-1 RNA that result in its localization to nuclear speckles, and Teixeira et al., 2005,– a demonstration that processing bodies require RNA for assembly.

The Fazal lab is hiring, so please feel free to reach out and contact Dr. Fazal directly if his lab’s research is of interest. He also just posted a postdoctoral position opening on the RNA Society website. Dr. Fazal can be found on Twitter at @FurqanMFazal.