RNA Featured Researcher – Rachel Torrez, Medicinal Chemistry

Rachel Torrez
Graduate Student, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Medicinal Chemistry
College of Pharmacy

Faculty-Mentor: Dr. Amanda Garner and Dr. Melanie Ohi

Twitter: @torrez_rach
Ohi Lab
Garner Lab

My research focuses on using cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to study the structure and function of an enzyme called DICER1. DICER1 is a large, highly dynamic, multidomain protein that not only plays a crucial role in microRNA biogenesis, but also has been linked to tumor formation. Despite this direct connection to disease and demonstrated importance in proper microRNA maturation, little work has been done to structurally understand the underlying mechanism by which DICER1 performs its cleavage reaction. With more insight into the full-length structure of DICER1 bound to its pre-microRNA substrate, I hope to fill this gap in knowledge regarding this underlying mechanism.

  • How does RNA relate to your research interests, and why?
    My research interests largely focus on better understand the how, why, and when of microRNA. How are mature strands of microRNA produced via the microRNA biogenesis pathway and how does DICER1 aid in the process. Why do mutations in DICER1 affect certain microRNAs? When do these mutations lead to downstream tumor/disease formation. Overall, the how, why, and when of microRNA are constantly guiding my research.
  • Who/what brought you to science?
    Growing up I was always interested in science, but it was really my AP Chemistry teacher from high school who inspired and encouraged me to pursue science and research as a full-time career.
  • What brought you to the University of Michigan?
    When first applying for Ph.D. programs I was still working in a chemistry focused lab. I wasn’t sure what type of research I wanted to pursue, but always knew I liked the idea of approaching science from multiple different points of view and fields of expertise. This is what brought me to the highly interdisciplinary programs at the University of Michigan and this mentality has also carried over into my research.
  • What are the main challenges/concerns to achieve your professional goals?
    For me, finding the right mentors and collaborators is and will continue to be an important part in achieving my professional goals.
  • What’s your favorite hobby?
    When not in the lab, I like to play ultimate frisbee and paint animal portraits (acrylicartist.net)

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