Principal InvestigatorCecilia I Zurita-Lopez, PhD zuritalopez (at) calstatela.edu (323) 343-2314 Curriculum Vitae (updated January 2020)
As an alumna of California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA) who has personally benefited from programs that encourage underrepresented minorities, and from professors who actively mentored me, I am very enthusiastic to return as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry.
Cal State LA is a primarily undergraduate minority serving institution whose student population is roughly 60% Hispanic. As a Latin-American female, I feel I can serve Cal State LA, not only because I am familiar with the student population, but also because I can be a positive role model in this community. As an undergraduate student, I lost my mother to breast cancer. This propelled me to study biochemistry and ultimately lead me to discover a career in scientific research. To learn more about minorities in science, I also took part in several minority-focused conferences that have addressed issues specific to under-represented people like me. Among other things, these types of conferences have made me conscious of the attrition rates in science among under-represented minorities. All of these experiences have fueled within me a desire to reach out to young students who, like me, have grown-up in underserved communities and who may not know about careers in science.
My laboratory investigates protein arginine methyltransferases (PRMTs), enzymes that post-translationally modify (PTM) proteins by adding a methyl group to arginine residues. In particular, we focus on PRMTs that share motifs with kinases so that we can identify substrates that are involved in PTM crosstalk. For example, PRMT7 shares a preference for an RXR motif with the kinase Akt whose binding motif is RXRXXS/T. Tentative substrates include histone proteins and PGC-1alpha. Identifying proteins and the sites at which protein arginine methylation affects phosphorylation will contribute to a greater understanding of cellular signaling.
I first became introduced to post-translational modifications as a graduate student under the direction of Dr. Steven Clarke at UCLA were I studied protein arginine methyltransferases (both in humans and in lower organisms), by characterizing their modifications on various protein substrates, including uncovering methylation marks on histone proteins. I also added to the understanding of the mechanisms by which PRMTs affect cellular function. For example, I identified Ash2L as a substrate of PRMT1, a protein critically linked to proper embryonic development. As a postdoctoral researcher at Caltech, I broadened my training in biochemistry and molecular biology while studying the role of the signal recognition particle (SRP), a “zip code” that leads proteins to their proper cellular localization. At USC, under the direction of Andrea Armani, I was part of an engineering group (chemical engineering and materials science) whose focus is the characterization and development of a new photonic device, also known as a microresonator. I participated in the study of these microresonators by applying them as biosensors for the study of methylation on both peptides and proteins, and for their use as detectors for early changes in cancer cells.
As I establish a research program at Cal State LA, and reflect on my own research training, I realize that, in pursuit of scientific knowledge of I have rarely turned down working in collaboration with others. This career path has exposed me to different fields and allowed me to be a better thinker and more observant with my work. My research is centered on the crosstalk between arginine methylation and phosphorylation. As the scientific community investigates posttranslational modifications, I am convinced that these types of interactions are critical to understanding fundamental processes and can lead the way to greater therapeutics and individual analysis of patients.
I am committed to sharing my knowledge, skills and love of science with enthusiastic students. One of my goals is to make my research highly interdisciplinary so that students from a variety of backgrounds ranging from biology and microbiology, biochemistry, physics, biomedical engineering, and chemistry can benefit. This will create a unique environment in my laboratory, where scientists from different backgrounds learn from one another and gain an unusual breath of knowledge. I place a strong emphasis on the training of my students to help them reach their potential as scientists.
In support of the new Rongxiang Xu Biospace Bioscience Center, home of the LA BioSpace Incubator coming soon to Cal State LA! Explaining my research to County Supervisor Hilda Solis and US Assistant Sec. of Commerce Jay Williams (left). A group picture: Hilda Solis, Cecilia Zurita-Lopez, Jay Williams and Professor of Biology, Dr. Howard Xu (right).
U.S Department of Education - STEM
A wonderful trip to see Mark Mamula and his lab: Mei-Ling Yang, Hester Doyle, Renelle Gee, and Tyler Masters, Yale University, March 2017