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About the Institute

Profile of Kristin Low

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Dr. Kristin Low

By: Brianna Bendici

Dr. Kristin Low, PhD

  • Research Fellow, Molecular Medicine

1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I grew up in Ottawa and eventually moved to Montreal where I did my undergraduate degree at McGill University. Then, I moved to Kingston where I completed my PhD at Queen’s University with Dr. Peter Davies. My undergraduate degree and my PhD were both in biochemistry.

2. What are you researching right now?
I’m working with Dr. Lynne Howell. Our lab is currently researching one specific bacterium that infects the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. When the bacterium creates an infection they create this sort of goo which is called a biofilm, protecting them from the body’s immune system and other antibiotics. So, right now, I am looking at one of the molecules that make up this biofilm, exactly what machinery the bacteria use to make this and how it’s used to help the bacteria stick together. Maybe if we can figure that out, we can stop the bacteria from forming this biolfilm to begin with.  

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist and why?
This question is tricky to answer because scientists are collaborative by nature. So even if you have a favorite you know that he or she had seven others help them get to get where they are today. The kid in me wants to answer with a fictional character though: Dr. Alan Grant from Jurassic Park. He is definitely one of my favourites. Jurassic Park overall was a great movie but his character really inspired me. He was the one who saw the evidence for what it was and defended it when no one else believed him. He figured out that dinosaurs were descended from birds, in the book and movie of course and he stuck with it. That, and he got so excited about science in general. The passion for the science behind it all is what stuck with me.

4. What in your opinion is the most important scientific breakthrough and why?
Of course, there are many important scientific breakthroughs. I think it’s hard to pick just one because one discovery leads to another and so on. But the techniques that we have in genome sequencing are really incredible. The ability to be able to sequence genomes has helped quite a bit, because we are now able to look at gene patterns and the development of different species.  It’s really helped many different fields of science, especially for medical health when trying to tailor treatments to the patients’ specific disease. The fact that we can look at a new organism and say “well, we don’t really know much about this but let’s sequence the genomes” is incredible. By doing this we are able to learn so much, like what other organisms it is related to, or if it has something new we may be able to use as an antibiotic, and so on. In my field of work, I am looking at individual molecules and I’m interested in how they’re made. Sequencing genes and comparing them between species really helps us to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I go to the dog park and run a lot with my dog Rufus. He’s a Silken Windhound which is a pretty new breed. It’s similar to a Greyhound but with long hair and a little smaller, so of course he loves to run. I also enjoy spending my down time fixing and tinkering with electronics. My dad is a computer and electrical engineer so I grew up with electronics in pieces everywhere. I’m super happy if I’ve got my elbows deep in a computer or my cellphone totally open to change or fix parts.

6. Why science?
When I was a kid I loved seeing how things worked on a very fundamental level. I think I always knew that I would go into some sort of science because my dad is a computer engineer and was often exposed to that sort of stuff as a kid. But I was never sure if it would be scientific research or computer engineering. I think it became a little clearer in high school when I began taking science courses that I was interested in the life sciences. Starting university, biochemistry seemed so interesting to me that I could combine my interests. In my undergraduate research project I realized that I could engineer proteins and molecules and use computer programs and really cool technology to help me do that. Then, I was hooked!  

7. Why SickKids?
When I was looking for postdoctoral fellowship positions, I knew I wanted to do something similar to what I had done before with structural biology: looking at how proteins and chemicals look and work on a molecular level. Lynne Howell’s lab came up as one of the top in the field, doing some really interesting work. I know people who had always said great things about her and her lab, which was at SickKids, and I was very lucky to begin working with her in Toronto! Her training is in crystallography and I knew I wanted more experience with that technique and I had done some complementary work during my PhD so it all made sense together. It’s been great. I’ve learned a lot just in the year I’ve been here and hopefully I’ve brought my own expertise to the group as well.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
We are just starting to get an idea of how this specific bacteria forms infections but there are so many different ways this can occur. There are many sugar polymers that these bacteria can make to form this biofilm, and now we are discovering that fungi make similar polymers. We are starting to learn more about the mechanisms behind this, and of course this brings forward a lot more questions so I would say that there’s just so many unknowns about how the biofilm is made. Those are the controversial questions.

9. What are you reading right now?
I am currently reading a book called Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. When I was a kid my dad put it on his Christmas list and I bought it for him and I remember thinking that this was just another huge book dad was going to read. So when I was looking for a new book a little while ago my dad suggested it and said that I would probably really enjoy it. It’s taken me a little bit to get through but it’s all about encryption techniques concerning computers from many different points in history. It’s historical fiction that follows a few different characters back in World War II up to modern day. Dr. Alan Turing’s work makes a cameo, too which I really enjoy. It’s been really interesting so far and I look forward to seeing how all these timelines come together.  

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
Follow your interests! If you’re passionate about something then go for it. Otherwise, research can be a very long and hard process if you aren’t internally driven and motivated by what you are studying. You need to be able to be curious enough to ask the right questions and in order to think of these questions you need to really love what you’re studying. It makes it a lot easier and fun, if you’re enthralled by what you do.

11. What does the SickKids Centre for Research and Learning mean to you?
It’s a very nice building itself. It’s so open which allows for so many new unique collaborations. You can talk to people in the lunch area, in other labs and on other floors. It’s a lot easier to communicate with other departments or labs because of the potential for interactions. You can easily ask someone, “Hey I’m just up on the 20th floor, would you mind talking about a problem I’m having?” Plus it’s really nice to have all our facilities and equipment in one building. Science is all about collaboration and using multiple techniques to further our knowledge, and I think the PGCRL helps.

May 2016