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Pursuing a dynamic research career

A chance project as an undergraduate led early career researcher Dr Wanting Jiao to the world of computational modelling where she developed the skills needed by a number of Maurice Wilkins Centre research programmes.

When Affiliate Investigator Dr Wanting Jiao undertook a summer project as a third year chemistry undergraduate at the University of Canterbury, there was no hint of where it would eventually lead her. That summer Wanting was introduced to ligand docking – a molecular modelling technique used to investigate interactions between small molecules and their protein binding sites. “That’s how I started in the computational field,” explains Wanting. 

Wanting Jiao Profile WebThe summer project also gave Wanting a taste of what computational methods can do, and she eventually went on to pursue a PhD with Professor Emily Parker, an MWC principal investigator. Under Emily’s mentoring, and with a desire to extend her skill set, Wanting learnt the computer-based methods to study the movements of atoms and molecules – “molecular dynamics simulations”. Wanting is applying these methods to study how the dynamic motions of an enzyme may contribute to its function and regulation.

Her knowledge and work in the field are already helping to explain results and guide some of the experiments being undertaken by colleagues in the Parker group and elsewhere within the Maurice Wilkins Centre. “The detail you obtain from a simulation is sometimes not accessible through experiments,” explains Wanting. “Computational methods and experiments combined together are a much more powerful approach for studying these enzyme systems.”

Wanting finished her PhD in 2011 and is now a post-doctoral research fellow in Emily Parker’s research group at the University of Canterbury’s Biomolecular Interaction Centre.

In 2015 Wanting attended the Early Careers Research Forum at the MWC Symposium where she presented on her contributions to projects under the MWC infectious disease research theme. The forum laid the foundation for more potential collaborations with MWC investigators. “It’s a win-win situation,” says Wanting. “Computational simulations are helping researchers get more insights, and these collaborations are giving me more experience and helping me learn more about the technique.”