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LIFE OF A SCIENTIST
Life of a Scientist at Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) MIT's Research Enterprise in Singapore
Understanding and fighting antimicrobial resistance with Dr Lee Wei Lin

I became a scientist because…

I enjoy scientific discovery. Being a scientist enables me to stand on the shoulders of giants to bring human knowledge to greater heights and to translate that into outcomes for improving the lives of people.

I chose to work in this field because…

Antibiotic resistance is becoming a serious public health threat and with the increasing prevalence of multi-drug resistant bacterial infections that are showing up in hospitals around the world, healthcare professionals are discussing about the possibility of an impending post-antibiotic era. In the post-antibiotic era, humans could once again die of common bacterial infections as antibiotics lose efficacy due to the evolution of resistance. I am motivated to contribute to understanding and combating antimicrobial resistance and do what it takes to reduce its impact on human healthcare.

A typical day at work involves…

Reading journals to learn about the latest developments in antimicrobial resistance and formulating and performing experiments to prove the next hypotheses. I am also involved in the supervision of research students and research assistants for educating and training the next generation of scientists that can contribute to understanding and combating antimicrobial resistance.

Besides my regular duties, I am also involved in…

I meet and give talks to clinicians and scientists at various institutions in Singapore to establish collaborative links and to share our discoveries with the larger scientific community. Most of these discussions go on to drafting the next cross-disciplinary grant proposal for greater scientific outcomes aimed at improving human health. At SMART, we also have the privilege of regular meetings with the SMART Innovation Centre to translate our scientific discoveries into products and platforms that can benefit the larger community.

Currently I am researching on...

In the lab we study epitranscriptomics, which is the role of RNA modifications, in antimicrobial resistance. Using nosocomial agent Enterococcus faecalis as a model organism, my work utilizes recent technological advances that enable high throughput profiling of RNA modifications.

Allowing us to explore how bacteria chemically modify:

(1) its rRNA to reduce binding affinity of ribosome-targeting antibiotics,

(2) its tRNA to allow it to effectively translate horizontally transferred genes, and

(3) various cellular RNA species for survival in the presence of antibiotic stress.

Epitranscriptomic analyses have enabled the identification of aspects of antimicrobial resistance that have not been studied or discovered before, representing a new paradigm to understanding antimicrobial resistance. At the conclusion of these studies, we will have identified candidates that can be targeted to counter various aspects of antimicrobial resistance.

The biggest challenge in my job is…

I wouldn’t call it a challenge but the greatest motivation in my job has always been to perform scientific discovery that can be carried forward to society and mankind in useful ways and to be able to bridge academic research with commercial development.

The biggest misconception about scientists is probably…

That scientists are infallible and that we know ‘everything’ but the reality is that scientists are probably more aware than anybody else, of humanity’s shortcoming - that we don’t know what we don’t know and that the more we know the more we find out that we don’t know. And that the caveat of science is that absolute truth is difficult, if even possible, to achieve.

My latest publication talks about...

Before I joined SMART, I was deeply intrigued by disease-causing bacteria that have evolved mechanisms to manipulate the human systems for survival. My publications explore how Yersinia pestis, one of the deadliest bacteria in human history, perturbs the host actin cytoskeleton to disrupt the process in which host immune cells take up and destroy pathogens.

  1. Singaravelu P, Lee WL, Wee S, Ghoshdastider U, Ding K, Gunaratne J, Grimes JM, Swaminathan K, and Robinson RC. Yersinia effector protein (YopO)-mediated phosphorylation of host gelsolin causes calcium-independent activation leading to disruption of actin dynamics. J Biol Chem. 2017 May 12;292(19):8092-8100. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M116.757971. Epub 2017 Mar 9. PMID: 28280241; PMCID: PMC5427284.

    * Editor’s pick; Highlighted by commentary in same issue

  2. Lee, W. L., Singaravelu, P., Wee, S., Xue, B., Ang, K. C., Gunaratne, J., Grimes JM, Swaminathan K, and Robinson, R. C. (2017). Mechanisms of Yersinia YopO kinase substrate specificity. Scientific reports, 7, 39998. doi:10.1038/srep39998.

  3. Lee, W. L., Grimes, J. M., & Robinson, R. C. (2015). Yersinia effector YopO uses actin as bait to phosphorylate proteins that regulate actin polymerization. Nature structural & molecular biology, 22(3), 248–255. doi:10.1038/nsmb.2964

* Highlighted by commentary in same issue; recommended by Faculty of 1000

In my free time, I enjoy…

Discovering the world through the eyes of my children and watching the occasional science fiction movie.

A book I will recommend everybody to read is…

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It reminds me to regard life’s challenges with humor and to have the conviction to do what is right regardless of societal pressures.

I enjoy my job because…

As the adage goes - choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. My ultimate goal in life is to discover and expand human knowledge for translational research that can impact human health and improve patient outcomes and my job enables me to work towards this life goal. Besides, my job provides great autonomy to decide on my scientific direction, I satisfy my scientific curiosity on a daily basis and there are endless learning opportunities.

Dr. Lee Wei Lin is a Research Scientist in the AntiMicrobial Resistance interdisciplinary research group of Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART). She joined SMART in 2016 when she received the SMART postdoctoral fellowship to work on mechanisms of RNA modification involving phenotypic and genotypic antimicrobial resistance in Enterococci. In recognition of her postdoctoral work on antimicrobial resistance, she was awarded the 2017 Young Investigator Award by the Society of Infectious Disease (Singapore) and Institut Mérieux. Concurrently, with a Young Individual Research Grant (YIRG) that she received from NMRC in 2016, she works on unravelling pathogen-host interactomes in sexually transmitted Chlamydia. She did her undergraduate in National University of Singapore; and with a scholarship from A*STAR, completed her DPhil in Clinical Medicine in Oxford University in 2014.

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