Brenda Peculis, associate professor of Biochemistry and director of graduate education, won the 2012 Outstanding Service Award from the RNA Society. She was recognized for her starting and editing the society’s newsletter.
The RNA Society is dedicated to fostering research and education in the field of RNA science. It hosts a peer-reviewed scientific journal, RNA, and an annual international scientific conference, along with sponsoring other RNA-related scientific conferences through direct financial support and student travel grants.
RNA, the transporter of genetic information within the cell, has emerged from the shadow of DNA to become one of the hottest research areas of molecular biology, with implications for many diseases. But the field is complex, requiring access to the latest equipment and techniques of imaging, gene expression analysis and bioinformatics, as well as cross-pollination between multiple scientific disciplines.
Peculis started the newsletter almost seven years ago as a way to help the society grow and communicate among itself beyond a once-a-year international meeting. She had no previous design, publishing or writing experience, so her work has been on-the-job-training since the beginning.
She also wanted to create a vehicle to help students and junior scientists interested in pursuing a career in RNA research to get acquainted with the small – about 1,000 members – but far-flung international RNA community. Each newsletter has stories by and about students, and lots of student photos. Often, a newsletter article is a student’s first go at writing for a general scientific audience.
Articles include tips on job opportunities, lab shortcuts, personal achievements and awards, meeting highlights and up-coming attractions at future meetings. She leaves the scientific material to the society’s RNA Journal.
The newsletter has always been online only – a way to keep costs down for the small organization. The online format also allows quick and easy access to society members via e-mail, encouraging researchers and students to easily communicate and get to know each other.
Peculis finds working on the newsletter a nice diversion and creative outlet from the slightly more routine aspects of research. She tries to make each issue a little more colorful and interesting.
Peculis earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Loyola University in Chicago. Her Biology PhD degree was conferred from Johns Hopkins University and she completed her postdoctoral research at Yale University in the lab of Joan Steitz, a founding member of the RNA Society. Her first independent position was at the NIH for nine years before she took a position at the University of Missouri as an associate professor.
“Our lab is interested in the molecular interactions that affect the rate at which cells grown and divide,” Peculis said. “We are currently focusing on RNA processing events, RNA-RNA and RNA-protein interactions that mediate RNA folding and the controlled RNA hydrolysis that affects RNA stability in vivo.
“While some of our assays are in vitro, our goals are to understand how changes in the folding or assembly of specific RNA or RNP components affect the ability of a cell to grow and respond to the micro-environment that exists within a cell. We use a variety of model systems to pose questions that can be addressed using different molecular, biochemical, biophysical and biological tools. We can isolate or manipulate individual components of the universally conserved cellular pathway of ribosome biogenesis or other associated pathways. Ultimately we hope to understand the unique roles and identify novel players essential for ribosome biogenesis and cell growth in eukaryotes.”