Graduate Student Spotlight: Jesús Dones

Danielle Randall
March 7, 2018

Born and raised on the east coast of Puerto Rico, Jesús Dones joined the Department of Chemistry with Professor Ronald Raines' lab in July of 2017. His current research is focused on Collagen —the basic building block of the extracellular matrix—and the most abundant protein in animals. Collagen is constituted mainly of three amino acids: glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. Each chain in the collagen triple helix is composed of a thousand amino acid residues with every third residue being glycine (Gly), resulting in an Xaa-Yaa-Gly repeating unit. Although the amino acids in positions Xaa and Yaa can vary, (2S,4R)-4-hydroxyproline (Hyp) and (2S)-Proline (Pro) are the most common, making Pro Hyp-Gly the most common motif in collagen strands (10.5%). 

Previous research in the Raines laboratory has shown that chemical modification of the Xaa and Yaa positions can affect triple-helix formation by either increasing the thermostability or obstructing triple-helix formation altogether. Formation is prevented due to unfavorable steric interactions, yet such collagen mimetic peptides (CMPs) are able to form heterotrimeric triple helices with endogenous collagen. The ubiquitous occurrence of collagen in animals has opened the door to using CMPs as “anchors” for chemotherapeutic agents. Although progress has been made, previous CMPs were not optimized.

This project aims to develop a new CMP, (flp-Hyp-Gly)7, that will retain invasive characteristics but improve the efficacy of delivery (where flp is (2S,4S)-4-fluoroproline).Additionally, this subtle change from H (in Pro) to F (in flp) mimics Nature more closely than
previous designs, diminishing any potential immunogenicity.

As March 2018's Graduate Student Spotlight,  Jesús shares his thoughts on the most ridiculous animal on the planet, the inconsequential super power he'd most like to obtain, his silliest fear, and more!

1. How did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
I changed majors from Biology to Chemistry in my junior year because I had a great mentor that not only thought me chemistry but also to this date continues to inspire me to do outreach work in every step of my carrier. Prof. Ingrid Montes inspired me to not only pursue chemistry but also do more than chemistry and help the community in any way possible.

2. What’s the most interesting documentary you’ve ever watched?
I’m a big fan of nature documentaries so I would have to say Planet Earth 1 and 2 miniseries. It’s one of the most stunningly vivid shows I’ve ever watched; it’s a visual triumph.

3. What bit of trivia do you know that is very interesting but also very useless?
Maybe it would be the meaning of ZIP in ZIP Code. (Zone Improvement Plan)

4. What movie universe would be the worst to live out your life in?
The first movie that comes to mind is Will Smith I am Legend, basically any movie with zombies that can run super fast, what happened to the slow walking zombies?

5. What’s the most ridiculous animal on the planet?
That would have to be the water bear or tardigrade. In an experiment done by a European research lab they sent these tiny creatures into space for 10 days and 68% survived. They can survive space! So I would give it to the water bears.

6. What scientific discovery would change the course of humanity overnight if it was discovered?
Either inexhaustible, cheap, accessible and, clean energy or the true meaning of covfefe.

7. What would your perfect bar look like?
The first bar that comes to mind is El Balcon del Zumbador. It’s a bar in Puerto Rico right in front of the beach that has different type of drums and anyone can come and play Bomba y Plena. The walls are full of pictures with famous musicians that have gone through the bar and it’s just a good time, with good music right in front of the beach.

8. What movie or book do you know the most quotes from?
It's neither a movie or a book but me and my brother would watch The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air together all the time so I know a couple of lines from that show and the intro song.

9. What inconsequential super power would you like to have?
I would say controlling my body temperature. Then I can go hiking, surfing or climbing during the winter and not mind the painful low temperatures. Also, I can be in shorts and sandals all year.

10. What food do you crave most often?
That would have to be rice with pigeon peas, fried plantains, “pasteles”, macaroni salad and pork, basically Puerto Rican Christmas food!

11. What did you believe for way too long as a child?
In the three kings. January 6 in Puerto Rico and other Latin communities is known as the Three Kings Day. This day commemorates the day the three kings Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar met baby Jesus and gave him three symbolic gifts. The night before, kids all over the island will fill a shoebox with grass for the three kings camels to eat. In the morning the “camels” had come in and eaten all the grass leaving a path back outside. It took me a couple of years to figure that one out.

12. What’s the most amazing place in nature you’ve been?
Definitely has to be Mona Island in the Caribbean, often called “The Galapagos of the Caribbean”. It’s an uninhabited ecological reserve that every year host biologist from all over the world to do research in this Caribbean gem. We got a permit to visit the island in 2014 and has been the most amazing place in nature I’ve been. From spelunking into underground mineral-rich waters to snorkeling in crystal clear waters this one is hard to beat.

13. What’s the best thing about the place you grew up?
I would say being surrounded by beautiful beaches. I grew up 15 minutes away from the beach and still can’t get enough of it. But can’t leave out the food and music.

14. What is something that is popular now that annoys you?
Philadelphia Eagle fans. They were an endangered species but now I see them everywhere.

15. What is your guilty pleasure?
Airport drinking. Even if its breakfast time if I’m in an airport I will get a beer.

16. What is the silliest fear you have?
My silliest fear is finding a pickle inside a burger. Definitely my least favorite food so I always double check to make sure it’s not going to sneak on me.

17. When you are old, what do you think children will ask you to tell stories about?
Every time I get the chance to see my grandma she tells us stories about how was Puerto Rico when she was young. So I think they’ll ask me how was the early 2000.

18. What apps have changed your life a lot?
I would say Spotify and Venmo. I’m always listening to music and for the past 6 years, Spotify has been the platform that I go to for music. Venmo has just made money exchange so easy that I use it for almost everything.

19. Where would you like to travel next?
I would have to say Australia. Growing in Puerto Rico and working in a marine biology research lab for a year has me and my friends always talking about different parts of the world that we would love to go and scuba dive. We always dreamt about the Great Barrier Reef. It would be amazing to scuba dive in the Great Barrier before its all gone.

20. If you could make a holiday, what would it be like? 
It would be the National First Hot Day of the year. Basically, the first day of the year that is sunny and +50 °F is a holiday. It’s hard to go to work when you’ve been freezing for 4 months and all the sudden its sunny and in the 50s so it should be a holiday! People can do and eat whatever they want as long as they're outside enjoying the beautiful day.

Many thanks to Jesús for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come!