IPiB Thesis Defense May 22, 2024: Abigail Bartlett

Abigail BartlettAbigail Bartlett, an IPiB graduate student, will be defending her Ph.D. research on May 22, 2024. Her research in the Pagliarini and Craig Labs investigated the roles of two enzymes involved in fatty acid oxidation in eukaryotes.

Fatty acid oxidation is the process by which cells convert fat into energy. The first step of this process is catalyzed by enzymes called acyl-CoA dehydrogenases (or ACADs), which each have affinity for specific short to long chain fatty acids. While the functions of some ACADs are understood, those of ACAD10 and ACAD11 are largely unknown. Bartlett’s research aimed to elucidate the roles of these enzymes.

Bartlett discovered that the ACADs 10 and 11 have unique domains which enable phosphorylation of their fatty acid substrates. With this ability, Bartlett says, the enzymes introduce uncommon fatty acids, such as those with chemical modifications that prevent them from being efficiently processed by other ACADs, into fatty acid oxidation.

“Until recently, the function of these enzymes and their physiological relevance was completely unknown,” explains Bartlett, whose research has been published in Molecular Cell. “We’re only just starting to understand their role. This is one of the reasons that I like to focus on individual enzymes and really dive into their  functions. I explored enzymes in vitro to learn about their true molecular features and structures, their active sites. Now, we can recontextualize these enzymes back into the broader framework of cellular pathways.”

Bartlett’s graduate research had the same stops and restarts weathered by many of the IPiB students who are graduating this year, their experience punctuated by COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. When Bartlett regained access to her benchwork in 2021, it was in a different city. While students were working remotely, Bartlett and some of her labmates moved to St. Louis, Missouri along with Pagliarini, who had accepted a position at Washington University in St. Louis in 2020.

“The IPiB program does such a good job of bringing everyone together and creating a strong culture and community,” says Bartlett. “It’s one of the reasons I chose the program. Even though we all work on disparate research topics, we did a lot of things outside of lab. And that continued remotely in 2020, so when I moved, I didn’t feel immediately disconnected from the IPiB community  because we were still doing stuff together remotely. I even participated in virtual graduate student recruiting events.”

Bartlett also responded to an invitation from the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy to include a chapter in her Ph.D. thesis that describes her research to a non-science audience. For Bartlett, writing this chapter is important professional development. She plans to continue on to a career in science communication after she graduates.

“I’ve spent time volunteering with the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation learning how difficult it can be to get a diagnosis for rare genetic diseases, especially if we don’t know the function of the implicated protein,” says Bartlett. “If we provide clinicians with a broader view regarding diagnosis and treatment of rare diseases, my hope is that more people will get the specialized care and treatments they need.”

To learn more about Bartlett’s research, attend her Ph.D. defense, “Biochemical investigations of uncharacterized redox-active enzymes in lipid metabolism” on Wednesday, May 22 at 2:00 p.m. CT in Room 1211 of Hector F. DeLuca Biochemical Sciences Building.