Mark Rizzo earned his doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh before moving to Vanderbilt University for a postdoctoral fellowship. In 2005, Rizzo accepted a faculty position in the Department of Physiology at the University of Maryland. His current research centers on the regulation and secretion of insulin through the action of the enzyme glucokinase. For their studies, Rizzo’s lab develops and uses optical biosensors—fluorescent proteins that enable examination of dynamic protein regulation in cells.
How did you get started in science?
I was bit by the "science bug" early in life. The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has this giant five-story Foucault pendulum that demonstrates the movement of the earth. At only eight years old, I remember being captivated by it, and I have been continually amazed by science ever since. Career-wise, my initial thought following high school was to pursue medicine. But, after doing the physician shadowing and requisite volunteering in ERs and so forth, it just didn't seem like a good fit for me. So, I found myself working in Dr. Betsy Repasky's lab at Roswell Park in Buffalo as an undergraduate, just to see what bench science was like. And the rest, as they say, is history.
What is your main research focus?
Broadly, I am interested in compartmentalized regulation of signaling molecules. The specific problem is metabolic regulation in pancreatic beta cells.
How did you get into your current field of research?
Pure chance! I chose labs for my graduate and postdoctoral work based on the personalities and approaches of the principle investigators. It so happens that my current work grew out of a combination of the interest in cell signaling I developed as a graduate student and the system that was under investigation in the lab where I was a postdoctoral fellow.
For you, what is the most exciting open question in your field at the moment?
I'd love to see some resolution to this idea of subcellular clustering of second messengers—particularly those that are enzymatically generated, such as cAMP. Clustered signaling is such an amazing idea, but I don't think the biophysics have been satisfied as to whether or not such clustering is possible in a biologically relevant sort of way, nor has any physiologic relevance been firmly established. Recent work on calcium sparks in smooth muscle cells, for example, has suggested that they may not occur within an animal.
As we are a methods journal, what do you see as the most pressing "method" need in your field?
For cell biology, I think we need better analytics. Creation of data, particularly time series, is so very easy these days with the available fluorescent protein and microscope technology. There's a lot of information in these data sets, but most of it is thrown away! We need better approaches to get more information out of the data we have available already. Certainly, there has been a lot of development in this space in the high content analysis area, but these methods need to be more accessible to the typical cell biology lab.
What suggestions/recommendations do you have for scientists starting on their careers now?
For students, I suggest spending some time really learning the science and engineering behind the techniques and instrumentation that you use. Knowing the nuts and bolts of how a data set is created is not just useful for troubleshooting, but can be very useful for interpreting the value of a particular piece of data. For later stages, just trust your own judgment.
You are a speaker at the 2013 BioTechniques Virtual Sympoisum. What are you looking forward to about presenting at this year’s Virtual Symposium?
Mainly, getting in touch with such a broad group of attendees. It's a fantastic way to communicate with the scientific community.
What do you think about the concept of “virtual education” in general? Is this your first virtual presentation?
I think it's a wonderful idea. Science is such a global endeavor, and virtual education is a great way to overcome some very real geographic barriers. This is my first experience with a virtual presentation, and I enjoy the format quite a bit. The presentation itself is more focused than a traditional talk, and I am excited to participate.
To learn more about Mark Rizzo’s upcoming talk at the Virtual Symposium, visit http://www.biotechniques.com/symposium/ .