Dr. Natoya Peart

By Dr. Prakash Kharel

Dr. Natoya Peart is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania working in Dr. Russ Carstens’s lab. She studies the functional and mechanistic roles of RNA binding protein and splicing regulator ESRP1. The Carsten lab had previously used the SELEX approach to identify the preferred binding motif for ESRP1, as well as, a few biochemical studies characterizing the binding and regulation of a subset of ESRP1 targets. Now, Dr. Peart is excited to identify in vivo targets of ESRP1 in mouse tissues with eCLIP. She hopes that her work also provides insight into roles for ESRP1 outside of splicing.

Dr. Peart’s first experience with basic science research was during a summer undergraduate fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Faye Rogers at Yale, when the Rogers lab was newly established and working on DNA repair. Growing up in rural Jamaica, Dr. Peart did not have a lot of experience with research – her general understanding back then was that “if you were interested in the sciences, you went to medical school. And the scientists I knew were far and abstract from my day to day experience – old, male, or European, mostly all three.” Dr. Peart’s summer research experience was eye-opening­ because Dr. Rogers was herself a Black female scientist, also from a small Caribbean island.

Having set her sights on research, Dr. Peart said, “I applied to graduate programs primarily based on the work of investigators that I was interested in working with. I was primarily interested in working in the field of DNA repair or DNA damage response.” She admitted, “I wasn’t interested in working in RNA biology because my general view was RNA does too much!” Upon joining the graduate school at University of Texas, Dr. Peart completed three different rotations—one in DNA damage response, one in ubiquitylation and cellular differentiation, and lastly one in 3’end processing of RNA in the lab of Dr. Eric Wagner. In the Wagner lab, Dr. Peart became intrigued by characterizing and understanding the 3’end of the Dux4 mRNA with a long-term goal of developing specific antagonists to the process. Dux4 is the leading candidate gene for being linked with Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy, the third most common muscular dystrophy. In the long term, Dr. Peart hoped that understanding Dux4 regulation would help develop viable therapeutics to the disease. Next, after her Ph.D., Dr. Peart sought to branch out within the field of RNA biology, and she landed in the Carstens Lab for her post-doctoral work.

Dr. Peart advised the newer folks to like what they are doing. She explained, “Grad school is tough—experiments don’t always work—it wouldn’t be an experiment if it did. But don’t give up! It won’t always be fun, but I believe it is important to truly enjoy the process, because otherwise you are making yourself miserable.” Her other piece of advice was to “get a support system going! I really liked the small size of my graduate program, because there were only 12 of us during the training. We all worked on different subjects, yet we all presented our research to each other. It was great to learn about other scientific endeavors, and that really helped keep me excited.” One on-going challenge for Dr. Peart is that she still struggles with is self-doubt, which comes from a complex mixture of the idea of not belonging and fear of failing. She explained, “while the self-doubt is a great driver to get things done and work hard, it can also be exhausting. But whenever, I see a fellow scientist with whom I have a close relationship overcome their own struggles to succeed, that inspires me.”

“While the self-doubt is a great driver to get things done and work hard, it can also be exhausting. But whenever I see a fellow scientist with whom I have a close relationship overcome their own struggles to succeed, that inspires me.”

Her most memorable RNA Society Meeting experience was her second annual meeting: RNA2015 in Madison, Wisconsin. “All the members of my graduate lab attended, and this was the first meeting I had participated in with other members of the lab,” she said. “It was also the 20th year meeting so it was sort of like an anniversary meeting. I recall that due to a massive storm hitting Houston, my lab members and I were all delayed in getting to Wisconsin as our flights had to be rescheduled so we missed the first day. Nevertheless, the meeting was all encompassing that even missing the first day we didn’t feel that we missed out. We were able to jump right into the slew of activities – both scientific and social. And I caught up with old and new friends and heard great science!”

mRNA is her favorite RNA because she likes “the simple complexity of mRNA, which is like a good book that you’ve read a lot and are very familiar with but every time you read it you glean something new.” And one of her recent favorite articles in the RNA Journal is a bioinformatic article, RBP-Maps enables robust generation of splicing regulatory maps (Yee et al., 2018). Dr. Peart can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/natoya.peart or  www.linkedin.com/in/njpeart