Asia’s Rising Scientists: Gene Yeo

Gene Yeo uses genetics to explore how defects in RNA processing contribute to diseases such as neurodegeneration.

Gene Yeo
Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
University of California, San Diego, USA

Adjunct Professor
National University of Singapore, Singapore

AsianScientist (Jul. 22, 2016)Genomics is a fascinating field of research that has the potential to revolutionize how we treat diseases. It is also ground zero for innovations in clinical treatments that are based on gene editing and induced pluripotent stem cells.

Gene Yeo, whose name coincidentally reflects his work, is one individual delving into the mysteries of our very own genes. A professor at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in the US, Yeo’s lab explores how gene expression is controlled at the RNA level to maintain proper functioning of cells during development and aging.

As a student, Yeo received the prestigious Lee Kuan Yew Graduate Fellowship that funded his PhD in computational neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 2005, Yeo was appointed the first junior fellow at the Crick-Jacobs Center for Theoretical and Computational Biology at the Salk Institute in the US, and in 2011, he received the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship in recognition of his work in computational molecular biology. He is currently a professor of cellular and molecular medicine at UCSD.

Yeo shares with Asian Scientist Magazine about his research into RNA processing, the challenges facing young scientists today, and the value of having good mentors.

  1. How would you summarize your research in a tweet (140 characters)?

    My lab works on understanding the mechanisms underlying RNA processing and how defects in RNA processing cause human diseases, such as neurodegeneration. We also develop molecular technologies to modulate RNA processing using engineered proteins.

  2. Describe a completed research project that you are proudest of.

    Currently, my most exciting work is a recently-published paper titled “Programmable RNA Tracking in Live Cells with CRISPR/Cas9” that was published in Cell earlier this year. In this study, my colleagues and I used the CRISPR/Cas system, typically used for genome editing and targeting, for tracking RNA in live cells. This opens up the opportunity to utilize RNA targeting Cas9, or RCas9, for manipulating RNA in live cells. We believe that this potentially provides new modalities for diagnostics and therapies.

  3. What do you hope to accomplish with your research in the next decade?

    I hope that our work will lead to new molecular and cellular insights into human development and potentially new therapies for currently incurable degenerative diseases.

  4. Who (or what) motivated you to go into your field of study?

    My foray into RNA biology was very much motivated by my graduate work with Professors Chris Burge and Phil Sharp at MIT.

  5. What is the biggest adversity that you experienced in your research?

    Funding into basic sciences has waned in the last few years, and that has discouraged many young bright minds from taking the chance to enter into basic research.

  6. What are the biggest challenges facing the academic research community today, and how can we fix them?

    As I mentioned above, I think a big challenge is to encourage young students to pursue excellent science, which often requires taking large risks in terms of the projects they choose and the areas they should pursue. Young scientists today don’t take enough risks and are often surprised that after many years of work, they have good results, but not unexpectedly great ones.

    As a community, we need to encourage younger scientists to take risks by providing them with sufficient support and mentorship, i.e., ‘a long enough rope to hang themselves.’ But of course, we must be there to catch them when they fall.

  7. If you had not become a scientist, what would you have become instead?

    An entrepreneur in a technology-driven company.

  8. Outside of work, what do you do to relax?

    I enjoy travelling and participating in triathlons.

  9. If you had the power and resources to eradicate any world problem using your research, which one would you solve?

    One that comes to mind would be addressing incurable degenerative age-dependent diseases.

  10. What advice would you give to aspiring researchers in Asia?

    Find good mentors, not bosses.

This article is from a monthly series called Asia’s Rising Scientists. Click here to read other articles in the series.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Gene Yeo.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Coming from a design background, Filzah brings a fresh perspective to science communications. She is particularly interested in healthcare and technology.

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