College of Arts and Sciences

Fulbright scholar Sara Fatima hopes to make a difference through science

Fatima is pursuing a Ph.D. in biological and biomedical sciences at Oakland University

icon of a calendarMay 16, 2024

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Fulbright scholar Sara Fatima hopes to make a difference through science
Sara Fatima
Fulbright scholar Sara Fatima

Fulbright scholar Sara Fatima’s aspiration to care for society and better the world inspired her educational path in molecular biology. When it came to choosing a university to transform that passion into reality, Oakland University’s (OU) cutting-edge research labs and expert faculty solidified OU as her number one choice.

With the support of professors and revolutionary research opportunities in her Ph.D. program at OU, the Pakistan native hopes to make a difference through science.

“Being a Fulbright scholar is truly an honor for me, something I proudly carry with me like a badge of achievement,” Fatima said. “The Fulbright experience offers unique opportunities that are unparalleled. It provides an invaluable chance to immerse oneself in the diverse culture of the United States while gaining a deeper understanding of its educational landscape. Moreover, Fulbright opens doors to numerous opportunities that might not be accessible otherwise. I am truly grateful for the privilege of being a Fulbright scholar.”

During her time at Oakland University, Fatima has been working in the laboratory of Dr. Chhabi Govind, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.

“Dr. Govind has been a very supportive and approachable academic mentor,” Fatima said. “His kindness and willingness to assist in laboratory research are truly commendable. Dr. Govind’s friendly demeanor makes him easy to approach, fostering an environment conductive to collaboration and learning. His deep understanding of the subject matter shines through as he patiently guides me through research queries, providing valuable insights and encouragement along the way.”

Dr. Govind's laboratory uses budding yeast as a model organism to investigate the relationship between chromatin structure and gene transcription, which is the process of extracting information from DNA. To unravel the secrets of DNA, it is essential to understand how DNA is made available to transcription machinery. DNA in eukaryotes is wrapped around a histone octamer to form nucleosomes, which are fundamental units of chromatin.

“To access DNA and initiate transcription, chromatin must be modified to make the DNA accessible,” Fatima said. “This is achieved by factors known as chromatin remodelers, which contain enzymes capable of breaking histone-DNA interaction.”

Chromatin Structure Remodeling complex RSC is a member of the SWI/SNF family of ATP-dependent chromatin remodelers, and mutations in these complexes are found in approximately 20 percent of all human cancers.

“One of the lab's primary focuses is to delineate the role of SWI/SNF and RSC in regulating chromatin structure under stressful conditions,” said Fatima, who is spearheading a project that aims to outline how SWI/SNF controls gene expression and communicates with autophagic bodies in the cytoplasm to survive acute starvation.

“This research, which combines molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, and next-generation sequencing, has significant implications,” she said. “By understanding how a starvation signal is transmitted to the nucleus to transcribe genes necessary for surviving starvation stress, we can potentially develop strategies to enhance cellular resilience. I have already identified candidate genes and am in the process of creating mutants that will shed light on how the transport of amino acids from the vacuole to the cytoplasm signals gene transcription."

Driven by fervent dedication to effect positive change, Fatima endeavors to leverage her skills and knowledge to contribute significantly to the advancement of global healthcare initiatives. After earning her Ph.D. in biological and biomedical sciences at Oakland University, she aspires to channel her passion and expertise toward a distinguished career with globally esteemed institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“Sara is poised to make unique contributions to the field of chromatin, transcription, and autophagy,” Govind said.

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