Erum Razvi, Biochemistry

Erum Razvi

Student Name:  Erum Razvi
Department: Biochemistry
Research Title: PhD Candidate
Supervisor: Dr. P. Lynne Howell

Description of your research:
Bacteria typically take on a biofilm mode of life, where they grow as small communities embedded in a self-produced matrix. Bacterial biofilms are more resistant to treatment with antibiotics, and are able to evade host immune responses. An important structural component of the biofilm matrix are exopolysaccharides. Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a gram-negative opportunistic and nosocomial pathogen is capable of taking on a biofilm mode of life. P. aeruginosa is notorious for infecting the cystic fibrotic lung, burn wounds, and medical devices. One polysaccharide it is capable of producing is Pel. A protein involved in the biosynthesis and chemical modification of the Pel polysaccharide is PelA, a periplasmic protein with two active catalytic domains; a hydrolase and deacetylase domain. The deacetylase domain has been shown to be required for robust Pel-dependent biofilms. The aim of my PhD project is to structurally characterize the deacetylase domain, understand PelA's role in vivo, and identify PelA deacetylase inhibitors from a high-throughput screen.

Why did you choose this supervisor:
I chose Dr. P. Lynne Howell as my supervisor because I am inspired by her success as a female supervisor. She is encouraging, understanding, and easy to talk to. Also, I take great interest in the research focus of her lab on microbial biofilms which cause upwards of 90% of human chronic infections. To me, the idea of trying to understand such small processes and using that knowledge to benefit human health and tackle antibiotic resistance from a different angle is very fascinating.

What’s your experience with research:
Prior to beginning my Master's degree at The University of Toronto, I began pursuing research on Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies) the summer after the first year of my undergraduate degree in Dr. Tristan Long's lab at Wilfrid Laurier University. I worked closely with a Master's student to devise techniques on assessing female fruit flies preferences for male sexual dimorphisms. During my third year, I volunteered in Dr. Joel Weadge's bacterial biofilm lab. My role was to assist senior students in the lab, as well as optimizing a protocol to purify a protein involved in bacterial cellulose biosynthesis. This led to becoming my fourth year undergraduate thesis project.

What are your future career plans:
I plan to pursue a career in industry, in the area of science communication.

Follow your passions, and pursue opportunities you enjoy. At the same time, do not feel like you have to say, “yes” to everything, saying, “no” is not a sign of weakness. Remember, it is better to prioritize quality over quantity, and your mental health.