Chemistry Graduate Student Katherine Taylor describes her research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.
All cells on earth contain a carbohydrate coat. Because bacteria use a suite of >400 building blocks that mammalian cells do not, their glycans have increased diversity. Surprisingly, there is little known about the biogenesis and biological roles of these glycans. An understanding of bacterial glycan assembly pathways can help us harness bacteria for health and agriculture. Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Katherine Taylor began her research with Professor Laura Kiessling‘s group in the Fall of 2017, after completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago. The Kiessling Lab studies chemistry and biology of glycans present in the cell wall of mycobacteria. Mycobacteria have one of the most intricate cell walls, with a thick, hydrophobic outer mycolic acid layer covalently linked to a peptidoglycan layer via an extensive branched polysaccharide called arabinogalactan (AG). The galactan is the only untargeted region of this cell wall core. Katherine is specifically interested in the conformational structure of the galactan polysaccharide, and the effect this structure has on cell viability.
As the subject of this month’s Graduate Student Spotlight, Katherine shares the movie she refuses to watch, the brand she is most loyal to, the outdoor activity she’d like to try, and more!
- How did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
A lot of my early research experiences were in biology, but over time I realized I was more interested in the molecular mechanisms of biological phenomena than the pathways or phenotypes themselves. I decided to work on total synthesis in undergrad to get a strong chemical foundation, before moving into chemical biology.
- If you could turn any activity into an Olympic sport, what would you have a good chance at winning medal for?
I can tell the difference between all diet colas and the definitive ranking (of the most popular three) is as follows: 1. Diet Coke 2. Coke Zero 3. (but is never okay) Diet Pepsi.
- What is your dream car or other mode of transportation?
I think it would be really cool to be able to fly a plane—so I think my “dream car” would actually be a two seater plane.
- What weird food combinations do you really enjoy?
A midwestern classic, pickle wraps: a dill pickle, covered in cream cheese, wrapped in ham.
- What movie can you watch over and over without ever getting sick of it?
The Graduate or Hercules.
- In ancient Egypt, people were buried with the items they would need in the afterlife – what would you want buried with you so you could use it in the afterlife?
I’d want to be buried with my favorite books. I have a large collection of Loebe Latin texts, art history books, chemistry and biology textbooks, and 20th century American literature.
- What is the most unsettling movie or TV show you’ve ever seen?
That one part of Willy Wonka where they go through the tunnel and there’s all these videos of centipedes crawling over men really freaked me out as a kid. I have no idea what it’s doing in that movie…
- What is special about the place you grew up?
Saint Louis has a huge amount of free public amenities. Our zoo, which is second only to the San Diego Zoo, is completely free, as is our art museum, history museum, and even some seats at the Muny, our outdoor summer theater. We also have a pretty great baseball and hockey teams!
- What brand are you most loyal to?
Diet Coke, see above.
- Would you rather have a flying carpet or a car that can drive underwater?
I would 100% rather have a car underwater. I would drop my phone off the carpet in under an hour and my AppleCare has expired.
- If you received a salary to follow whatever passion you wanted to, what would you do?
Aside from chemical biology, I’d probably choose be a classicist or a botanist. I love Latin and Greek literature and translating texts is one of the most fun things I did in school. I also love plants and learning about them. Working at a botanical garden would be really interesting.
- What toy played the biggest part in your childhood, and why?
Not inherently a toy in itself, but my sister and I grew up next to a small woods and my dad bought walkie talkies so that we could go out and play in the woods by ourselves. We all used to make sure we were on the same channel and he’d be able to tell us when to come home for dinner.
- What TV show or movie do you refuse to watch?
- What is your favorite book of all time?
Picking a favorite book of all time is hard, but I really love the Aeneid. I don’t read it for fun all the time, but it’s something I’ve read at many different times in my life and it holds up really well.
- What did you think you would grow out of but haven’t?
Liking sugary cereals.
- Who are three of your favorite fictional characters?
Sansa Stark, Eleanor Shellstrop from the Good Place, Scar from the Lion King
- What movie, picture, or video always makes you laugh no matter how often you watch it?
- What outdoor activity haven’t you tried, but would like to?
I really want to try hang gliding off a mountain.
- What movie universe would be the worst to live out your life in?
Haven’t seen the movie but I’m pretty sure Ready Player One is not a world I’d fare well in.
- If you were given one thousand acres of land that you didn’t need to pay taxes on but couldn’t sell, what would you do with it?
I would turn part of it into a botanical garden, build a bunch of cabins all throughout the rest of it, and turn it into a park or preserve.
Many thanks to Katherine for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come!