“When One Teaches, Two Learn”

written by Rob Uche Onyenwoke

edited by Daijha J. Copeland

Rob Uche Onyenwoke, PhD

Rob Uche Onyenwoke, PhD

My career in the sciences began at the University of Georgia in Athens, where I received a B.S. in Biology and conducted an honors thesis involving an evolutionary analysis of microbial tRNAs (transfer RNAs). From working on my senior thesis with my mentor Prof. William B. Whitman, I garnered an interest in microbiology and decided to stay on and pursue a Ph.D. I focused my studies in the areas of performing biochemical and microbial analyses of oxidoreductase enzymes and microbial metabolism and performing microscopy. One of my fondest memories of this time was due to my mentor, Prof. Juergen Wiegel, who helped me through the trying time of completing my Ph.D dissertation. Prof. Wiegel was the epitome of a great mentor and working with him led me to serve as an instructor of microbiology and later a teaching fellow during the final year of my Ph.D. work.

While completing my Ph.D., I spent a significant amount of my time as a researcher and teacher, mentoring undergraduate and graduate students in my respective departments. Having had a fantastic mentor, like Prof. Wiegel, I was eager to guide and counsel younger researchers through their journey. Based upon my own experiences, I learned to view mentoring as very important work.

I accepted a post-doctorate fellowship from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, after completing my teaching fellowship and Ph.D. work. UNC gave me the opportunity to work with Prof. Jay Brenman in the Neuroscience Center and Lineberger Cancer Center studying and identifying novel metabolic targets involved in the progression of diabetes and cancer/neuroblastoma. Soon I began developing my own areas of research and went on to further characterize a calcium channel intimately involved with metabolic disease using high-content imaging.

(B) Representative image of wild-type da neurons expressing an Actin::GFP fusion transgene in a second instar larva. (C) ampka mutants display enlarged plasma membrane domains (arrows) in sensory neuron dendrites, but not axons. (D) A wild-type ampka transgene expressed autonomously within da neurons completely rescues the dendrite phenotype.

(B) Representative image of wild-type da neurons expressing an Actin::GFP fusion transgene in a second instar larva. (C) ampka mutants display enlarged plasma membrane domains (arrows) in sensory neuron dendrites, but not axons. (D) A wild-type ampka transgene expressed autonomously within da neurons completely rescues the dendrite phenotype. Images from: Swick, L. , & Kazgan, N. , & Onyenwoke, R. U., & Brenman, J. E. (2013). Isolation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) alleles required for neuronal maintenance in Drosophila melanogaster.. Biology Open, 1321-1323.

Dr. Brenman on occasion also served as a faculty mentor to a program offered at UNC called the Science and Math Achievement and Resourcefulness Track program (SMART). I participated as a mentor. The SMART program paired undergraduates with mentors. Students were expected to commit a minimum of 30 hours a week during the summer to complete a research project. Thanh Bui (B.A. Chemistry ’14) was my mentee last summer. I helped her navigate the ins and outs of the lab in order to complete her project examining the relationship between the enzyme AMPK, gene TRPML1, and the target of rapamycin complex 1 (TORC1) pathway. I am proud to say that we have plans to include her work in a revised manuscript to be submitted to the journal Science Signaling. Bui will begin her graduate studies at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Pharmacy in the fall.

Dr. Rob Uche Onyenwoke is an independent Principal Investigator with the Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE), a part of North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham as a Research Assistant Professor/Core Facility Manager. NCCU’s BRITE is primarily a training institute and seeks to mentor and train the next generation of scientists.divider