Dr. Bradley Merrill
I have had a somewhat unusual training background. I originally chose UCSD for graduate school because it had (and still has) several great labs working on how transcription factors control cell fate in mammalian systems. However, during my first year there, I was introduced to the “awesome power of yeast genetics” by Connie Holm, and I fell in love with the process of doing research using all the genetic tools available to yeast. I especially enjoyed manipulating auxotrophic selections in designing genetic screens and being able to mutate genes within their endogenous locus. I gained a perspective of the problems in interpreting experiments based on overexpression or poorly controlled expression of a gene outside its endogenous locus. My PhD dissertation research was on the interaction between homologous recombination repair pathways and DNA synthesis proteins; something very far from my original interests. I left scientifically enriched with the ability and perspective on how to use mutations, selection, and genetic screens as primary tools to interrogate a biological topic. I made a significant transition when I decided to join Elaine Fuchs’ lab as a postdoc to study the role of Wnt signaling and Tcf/Lef proteins in stem cells. One of the qualities that attracted me to Elaine’s lab was how she had built up genetic tools to make the mouse hair follicle a good system for studying cell fates in mammals. The system was not as genetically malleable as yeast, but it was about as good as it got for mammals at the time. I was able to take the lessens I learned from yeast, in particular the use of mutations to define a protein’s function, and apply them to the mouse using tools established by Elaine’s group. In my own group at UIC, I have continued down the same path and used analysis of mutants and effects of mutations on protein function as the core of my group’s research. If you look into my group’s manuscripts, you will find that most of our discoveries come from analysis of mutant phenotypes. I have described my background above in a rather personal manner because I think it is important to provide some insight into my role in establishing the Genome Editing Core facility at UIC. My group started using CRISPR/Cas9 in 2013. It worked extremely well for us, and it essentially has changed the way we are doing experiments. There is a certain dynamic that emerges once it becomes easy to make mutations in a system. I have found that I am now thinking about experiments with mammalian cells similar to my yeast genetics days. Part of my group is also working on advancing CRISPR/Cas9 technology to enable new genome editing applications. These experiences and my desire to see other benefit from the power of genome editing in mammalian cells led me to develop a core facility to help investigators implement genome editing techniques into their research plans. Our Genome Editing Core Facility been serving investigators in the Chicago area (UIC, UofC, Northwestern) since August of 2014. The core provides training, experimental design, and synthesis of the DNA/RNA reagents needed to complete genome editing projects. By working hand in hand with other core facilities in the Chicago area (transgenics, bioinformatics, and sequencing facilities) the core offers a suite of services using cutting edge technology.