Brandon Saint-John: Graduate Student

Brandon Saint John

What are you researching?

My research is looking at nanopore sequencing. Nanopores involve a biological pore on a small membrane. We use nanopores to sequence DNA by passing a single strand of DNA through a pore with an electrical current.  Then you can look at the changes in the current that are taking place and derive the underlying sequence.

We’re using it as a new technique to look at chromatin structure. We’re especially interested in how cancer uses chromatin structure to affect certain processes like splicing or gene expression overall, and a lot of current methods rely on short segments of DNA and understanding how those play a role together. With nanopore sequencing, we want to look at how long distances of DNA interact with each other to affect these bigger changes. We want to use this method we’re developing with nanopore sequencing to figure out that structure and then we can tie back and say, “based on these proteins and all these things bound to the DNA, how does cancer use those interactions to affect tumor growth and other processes?”

How did you get interested in this research?

I first got interested in bioinformatics and computational biology was when I was an undergrad. That really drew me into the field. Then coming here, nanopore sequencing was developed here at UC Santa Cruz by Mark Akeson and David Deamer. They’re one of the big leaders in using this technology. I saw a really interesting opportunity to apply those types of technologies to my research. It’s nice to have resources and people here who are already experts because I can leverage their expertise toward my own research.

What do you like about engineering?

I like the applicability of engineering. Our lab works directly with cancer genomics and our collaborators will send us primary RNA or DNA samples so we can work directly with patient data and apply a lot of our techniques toward that to solve problems and work on diseases and hopefully solutions.

What do you like about Baskin School of Engineering?

What I like most is definitely the collaborative atmosphere we have. I can go to not only my advisor, but professors down the hallway. If I have a problem with setting up a protocol or doing some computational analysis, I’m in more of a community of researchers that allows me to have more than just one person as an advisor and to be able to look at different perspectives on my research.

What’s your dream job?

My ultimate goal is a government position or in a national lab. I had a lot of family who either served in the military or some capacity like that. So I think being able to work toward a mission like that is what I’m interested in doing in the future.

What do you like to do for fun?

I like rock climbing. A lot of grad students here rock climb. It’s fun after a hard day of doing research to be able to climb walls and have a lot of fun that way. Hiking, going to Big Basin or Natural Bridges to see the tidepools are also fun things to do here. There are a lot of natural features in Santa Cruz that I enjoy.

Department: 
Biomolecular Engineering
Degree Program: 
Ph.D., Biomolecular Engineering and Bioinformatics
Place of Birth: 
Virginia
Undergraduate Institution: 
University of Virginia
Graduate Institution: 
UC Santa Cruz
Advisor: 
Angela Brooks