Student Spotlight: Doreen Addo-Yobo

| Thu, 11/09/23
Doreen Addo-Yobo, a doctoral student pursuing a degree in biochemistry in FSU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
Doreen Addo-Yobo, a doctoral student pursuing a degree in biochemistry in FSU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Photo by Colorcraft STUDIOS.

Doreen Addo-Yobo is a doctoral student pursuing a degree in biochemistry in FSU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, part of the College of Arts and Sciences. Addo-Yobo graduated with first-class honors from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana in 2019, where she earned her bachelor's degree as part of the Laboratory Technology program, which combines chemistry, biological science, physics and mathematics. Following her undergraduate studies, she honed her skills as a teaching assistant at her alma mater. As an FSU student, Addo-Yobo earned the Dean's Award for Doctoral Excellence in Spring 2023 and works in the Hong Li Lab, within the Institute of Molecular Biophysics, where she is an integral part of research projects exploring molecular mechanisms governing CRISPR-Cas systems.

Tell us a little about your background, where you’re from and what brought you to FSU.

I am originally from Obosomase, in Eastern Ghana, although I completed my elementary and high school education in Accra, Ghana. The pursuit of academic excellence and curiosity about the world around me led me to explore opportunities beyond Ghana. I’m particularly fascinated by the FSU chemistry department’s commitment to fostering interdisciplinary research.

What inspired you to pursue a degree in biochemistry?

I was initially drawn to biochemistry due to my deep-rooted passion for improving the health and well-being of people in Africa. Our continent faces numerous health challenges, especially infectious diseases. Growing up, I witnessed firsthand the importance of finding solutions to these problems. Biochemistry allows us to explore the tiniest building blocks of life and how they are connected to these health issues. It's a field that offers me a chance to make meaningful impact, and that's what continues to inspire me on this journey.

Tell us about your research assistantship in Li Lab. What does a typical day look like?

A typical day in the Li Lab is dynamic and varies depending on the stage of the research project. As a graduate assistant, I contribute to the ongoing research projects in the lab. This involves designing and conducting experiments, analyzing data, and collaborating with other lab members with the goal of advancing our understanding of the CRISPR defense system and its applications. The CRISPR defense system is a natural defense system found in most bacteria and archaea, which helps them defend against invasion by foreign genetic elements. We regularly convene for lab meetings, fostering scientific discourse and brainstorming innovative ideas.

Your research interests lie in structural biology and protein biochemistry. Why are these topics important?

Understanding the structure and function of proteins helps us develop tools to directly impact huge populations. When we know what a protein looks like, we can modify its function and make it more useful for biotechnology purposes. In the context of the CRISPR defense system, understanding the structural details of the CRISPR-Cas proteins and their interactions with viral DNA as well as deciphering how these proteins function in identifying and neutralizing viral threats is essential. It serves as a foundational step in illuminating the mechanisms that drive bacterial immunity.

What is something people don’t know about studying a scientific discipline?

Science is not just a body of knowledge; it's a mindset that encourages critical thinking, resilience in the face of setbacks, and an enduring passion for exploring our universe. It's a journey that never truly ends, as there is always more to learn and discover. When you embark on the path of science, you're not just studying facts. You're nurturing a lifelong love affair with curiosity and the boundless mysteries of the natural world.

Who are the faculty or staff who have served as mentors or inspirations during your time as a graduate research assistant?

My adviser, Hong Li, who is also a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of the Institute of Molecular Biophysics, has been an invaluable guide throughout my research journey. Her expertise, dedication and support have not only shaped my research but have also instilled in me a deep passion for scientific inquiry. The faculty and staff in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Molecular Biophysics program have also been exceptionally kind and helpful.

What are some of your current goals or projects?

One of my primary goals involves delving into the mechanisms of the CRISPR defense system, aiming to uncover novel insights that could potentially enhance its efficiency in various applications. Specifically, I am focused on investigating how type III CRISPR bacterial molecules serve as an alarm system, mobilizing other CRISPR proteins to an infection site and what these molecular responses mean for bacteria overall. Understanding these molecular responses is a crucial component of bacterial defense against viral infections, and these molecular insights could be leveraged for diagnostic purposes and be utilized for different things that could be revolutionary. It is noteworthy that CRISPR has been recognized with a Nobel Prize and thus is highly relevant to the general population at large.

What parts of studying biochemistry have you found the most rewarding?

The most rewarding part of studying biochemistry for me lies in the blend of intellectual curiosity, the opportunity to contribute to the frontier of scientific knowledge, and the potential of my research for real-world impact.

What on-campus resources have helped you achieve success?

The combination of a dynamic research environment in my lab, access to extensive research materials at FSU Libraries, and the wellness offerings at the Bobby E. Leach Center have propelled my academic and personal success.

If you could offer one piece of advice to undergrads (perhaps those thinking of pursuing their doctorate at FSU), what would it be?

Cultivate a deep and genuine passion for your field of study. While academic excellence is important, your curiosity and love for what you do will sustain you through the challenging but rewarding journey of graduate research. A strong foundation of genuine curiosity and dedication to the pursuit of knowledge will not only enrich your academic experience but also propel you forward on your path towards making meaningful contributions in your field.