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Elizabeth Fink’s Statement of Purpose

Cloning, transformation, and flow cytrometry are a few of the skills I use to
study the elusive relationships and interactions between cells and viruses. As a
Molecular Biologist Technician at The Scripps Research Institute, I’ve learned that
understanding life at the molecular level requires solid academic training,
exceptional laboratory skills, and the creativity to develop theories to explain
observations. I have studied Molecular Biology, worked two years in an academic
research laboratory, collaborated with colleagues to publish discoveries, and am
ready to begin a PhD program that will enable me to lead research teams.

I have always been interested in science and how life works. I first wanted to
be a scientist in my freshman year in high school, when I attended a future
scientist’s symposium at the Scripps Research Institute- it triggered something
inside me, and really ignited my passion for molecular biology. One of the chemists
gave us a tour of the labs and described the research with such conviction and
enthusiasm that I was compelled to learn more. I excelled in Advanced Placement
Biology and Chemistry classes in high school and was accepted into the Molecular
Biology program at the University Of California San Diego (UCSD) as a freshman.
UCSD introduced me to the bio-chemical concepts needed to comprehend
molecular biology and I graduated with honors.

Eager to develop my research skills, I joined Dr. John Elder’s team at The
Scripps Research Institute as a Research Technician in June of 2007. The Elder lab
works to define the molecular mechanisms of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV),
so that cats may eventually be used as a small animal model for HIV vaccine
development. Most of my work in the lab revolves around FIV’s envelope
glycoprotein, gp95, and how it interacts with the cell receptors CD134 and CXCR4.
My lab skills encompass everything from maintaining the various cell lines we use
for protein production and flow cytometry, to infecting and testing the various
strains of FIV. I mastered the basics of cloning (Transformation, PCR, Reverse
Transcription PCR, restriction digests and ligations) and employ site directed
mutagenesis using a multitude of methods. Depending on the experiment, I will
use either quickchange or Splicing by Overlapping Extension (SOE) PCR method.
This enables me to ligate the clone into either viral vectors for transduction, or
regular plasmids for transfection of mammalian cells. To make a single amino acid
Elizabeth Fink’s Statement of Purpose

point mutation, in the presumed CXCR4 binding region of gp95, I prefer using the
quickchange method. I can then place it into the MSX resistant vector pRSC and
transfect it into the Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) protein producing cell line. The
CHO cells produce the mutant gp95, which I purify using affinity chromatography so
I can use the immunoadhesion in my flow cytometry experiments. These
experiments enable me to test the ability of mutant gp95 binding to CXCR4 and
CD134 and compare it with a control of wild-type gp95 binding.

I read scientific journals because they enable researchers to share their


discoveries. In the paper I co-authored, “Improved health and survival of FIV-
infected cats is associated with the presence of autoantibodies to the primary
receptor, CD134”, for publication in The Proceedings of the National Academy
Sciences (PNAS), I described how mini-Reverse Transcriptase Assays can be used to
detect FIV infection. I also recently learned about siRNA techniques and brought
them into the Elder Lab, so we can knockdown a particular gene in our cell lines
without the tedious work of engineering a new cell line so that it lacks that gene. I
have successfully reduced the expression of CD134 and CXCR4, and am already
using these new capabilities to help determine the role of OrfA, a gene of FIV that’s
purpose has not yet been defined.

Working at Scripps these past two years has given me the expertise
necessary to conduct complex molecular experiments and prepared me to enter a
molecular biology graduate program where I can learn the complete process of
scientific discovery. I enjoy working under the direct guidance of established
scientists who can advise me how to evolve my theories into discoveries through
the process of grant writing, protocol outlining, technique development, and
publishing the findings. I am ready to move past the stage of executing
experiments and into the realm of complex thinking that leads to scientific
advances. Joining the UCSD graduate program with its interdisciplinary approach
would enable me to build on my foundation of knowledge so that I may pursue my
own scientific inquiries.

UCSD is my first choice of graduate programs because of the diversity of its


ongoing research, from stem cells, cancer and HIV, to novel drug and vaccine
development; and because it’s recognized as one of the top graduate programs in
Elizabeth Fink’s Statement of Purpose

the country. As a molecular biologist I am acutely aware of the different scientific


approaches necessary to understand biological processes, and am excited at the
prospect of working in the labs encompassed by the interdisciplinary initiative of the
UCSD PhD program. UCSD’s great location as the hub of the bioresearch
community near The Scripps Research Institute, The Burnham Institute, and The
Salk Institute makes it easier for scientists to meet and collaborate. Exceptional
scientific research opportunities are not the only reasons for choosing the UCSD
graduate program. I was impressed by the state-of-the-art facilities and the friendly
environment I experienced as an undergraduate. The ease of interaction between
the professors, the graduate student TAs and the other students made the
dissemination of knowledge fun. Working in a research lab, designing and
performing the experiments has solidified my desire to continue with a research
career in molecular biology.