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Tara Young

Mentor: Dr. Monica Guo, Microbiology


Current research project:Interrogating the Mechanism of Action of GapR, a Topoisomerase Activator

Tara Young is a second-year majoring in Biochemistry and minoring in Bioethics at University of Washington. She is excited about investigating the Biochemistry of cellular mechanisms and is currently working on a project to determine the mechanism of protein-protein interactions between the DNA structural protein GapR and essential DNA replication enzymes, topoisomerases. Her research is based at the Guo Lab of Microbiology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. In her free time, Tara enjoys painting, spending time in nature, and baking!


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Devastating tick-borne diseases—Rickettsiosis, Typhus, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever—are caused by α-proteobacteria. We urgently need more antibiotics to treat α-proteobacterial human diseases for which Doxycycline is the only available treatment, with up to 5-10% of cases ending in death even with treatment. Topoisomerase enzymes are important antimicrobial targets. Topoisomerases relax knotted DNA strands that get wrapped around themselves during replication, termed “positive supercoils,” to enable replication fork progression. Positive supercoiling prevents DNA from being pulled apart and presents a significant obstacle to DNA replication, with about 100 supercoils introduced every second during bacterial DNA replication. Despite decades of study, the mechanism for topoisomerase recruitment to positive supercoils is not known. GapR is a structuring protein that stimulates topoisomerases in α-proteobacteria: without GapR, topoisomerase activity halts, and α-proteobacteria die as they are unable to replicate their DNA, suggesting GapR is likely a missing regulator to topoisomerase recruitment. The focus of my research is understanding the mechanism for how GapR interacts with topoisomerases using a variety of biochemical assays. As the mechanism for topoisomerase recruitment is unknown, my research will unravel DNA replication functionality. The application of this work is promising for developing novel antibiotic technology targeting α-proteobacteria.



When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
In my senior year of high school, I had an interest in research and wanted to learn what I could do to become involved. Through attending an Undergraduate Research Program information session held by an Undergraduate Research Leader, I learned tips to use when reaching out to professors, such as reading their published works and developing questions to ask in interviews. I relied on these to gain my role as a research assistant at the Guo Lab of Microbiology shortly after graduating from high school in July of 2021. I have been researching in the Guo lab ever since where I get to direct my own research on the question that intrigued me most when reading the manuscript of my mentor before interviewing!


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
I would advise interested students to pursue experiences based on what they think they would enjoy and gain the most from participating in. While joining research can be a daunting process where you might be unfamiliar with terminology, procedures, and certain background information, remember that research mentors understand the transition to research can be hard at first and will be there to help you in the process! I think the most important part is enthusiasm for what you’re doing and a commitment to learning and growing: that’s what will transform your research experience. The URP is here to provide help and advice when starting out (or continuing) your undergraduate research journey, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help!