The recipient of this year’s Excellence in Mentoring Award, Professor Paola Laurino, leads a group that investigates the structure, function and evolution of proteins called enzymes, which are vital parts of all life.
Professor Paola Laurino leads the Protein Engineering and Evolution Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST). Fascinated by proteins, she has spent much of her career looking at the structure, function, and evolution of enzymes, a group of proteins that facilitates vital chemical reactions for living organisms. But Prof. Laurino is not only recognized for her research. This month, she was the recipient of the Faculty Excellence in Mentoring Award for 2022. This award recognizes the vital role that inclusive mentoring plays in the professional development and career advancement of OIST students, postdoctoral scholars, and researchers, and the lifelong impact of excellent mentors. Recipients are nominated by OIST students and researchers.
"The most enjoyable part of my day-to-day work is discussing science with my group members, the most rewarding part is seeing them succeed,” said Prof. Laurino.
At the end of 2021, Prof. Laurino’s group published three scientific articles on different aspects of enzyme research. In the most recent episode of the OIST podcast, science communicator Lucy Dickie caught up with Prof. Laurino to hear about this work.
“My Unit wants to understand how enzymes function and then, based on this knowledge, generate enzyme-based tools for biocatalysis or chemical biology. In a nutshell, we learn how enzymes evolve and work then use this information to engineer or design new enzymes.”
Although there are many ways her group’s research could be applied, the work is more focused on developing a fundamental understanding of enzymes. When asked why she thought it was important to answer questions surrounding this topic, Prof. Laurino rephrased a quote from theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Richard Feynman "we cannot create what we don’t understand.”
Prof. Laurino stated that it is useful for students in this field to have a strong background in organic chemistry but also highlighted the necessity to stay curious and interested. “I think it’s very important that we are always learning and that our learning curve is steep.”
See below for the research articles discussed in the podcast: