Molecular Motors and Cargo Routing
> Spectrum Magazine - Spring 2019
Molecular motors are the engines that power the ability of cells to transport internal “cargo” or essential substances to the cell membrane via the cytoskeleton. The cytoskeleton acts like a super highway moving cargo to and from different parts of the cell. Two families of motor proteins, kinesin and dynein, help transport the cargo along microtubules.
“My research focuses on the kinesin-microtubule system—in particular how cargos are routed through a complex network of filaments,” said Doval. The cytoskeleton of a cell is comprised of three individual filament networks, one of which is the microtubule network, and one of the motors associated with the microtubule network is called kinesin.
“I’ve investigated how the geometry of a single intersection of microtubules can affect how cargos driven by multiple kinesin motors navigate that intersection.” said Doval. “Lately, I’ve been scaling up the experiment to see how the geometry of multiple intersections can impact cargo routing outcomes.”
So far, her research supports the idea that a cell could use the architecture of the cytoskeleton network to regulate where cargos are routed. “Understanding this potential mechanism for regulating transport is important for biomedical research,” said Doval. “Often a breakdown in transport is associated with such things as kidney disease, chronic respiratory infections, some cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s or ALS.
Creating a Supportive Environment for Women
Doval became interested in physics in high school by reading pop science books and books about astrophysics by Brian Greene, Janna Levin, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. She went to Barnard College and decided to become a physics major. “One of my professors was Janna Levin, so it was kind of a dream come true to study with her,” said Doval.
As a field, physics has a reputation for not being welcoming to women, but Doval found Barnard’s physics department very supportive. When she started graduate school at the U, however, she was discouraged by a faculty member who made it clear that he didn’t think she belonged in the program.
“It was such a profound and unwelcome change from the relationships I’d had as an undergrad,” said Doval. Since then, her experiences have gotten better—she’s had great professors, made friends, and made good progress in her work. “I’ve put a lot of time and energy into pushing for policies that I think are providing more support and protection for graduate students,” said Doval. “When I finish my Ph.D., hopefully in May 2020, I’d like to believe that I’ve had some lasting impact on the department and that future students will experience a friendlier and more welcoming environment.” Since she began at the U, Doval has been very involved in the local chapter of Women in Physics and Astronomy (WomPA) as well as the Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GSAC).
When she isn’t focusing on cells and routing outcomes, Doval loves to cook and do cycling. She runs a weekly food blog with a college friend, and they’re trying to cook every recipe in the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook - The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook. You can follow their progress @friday_night_dinners.
“I feel my research is just scratching the surface of all there is to know about cargo routing in cells and how the geometry of microtubule network architecture affects these outcomes,” said Doval. “I love working in this field because it’s wide open—there are so many questions still to be asked, so much room to add layers of complexity, and so much to be learned at each step.”