Biophysical Society Bulletin | April 2022
Biophysicist in Profile
Erin Dueber Area of Research Human signaling pathways
Erin Dueber grew up in Alaska, growing an appreciation for the natural world before delving into scientific research as a high school student. After her first taste of research, she was dedicated to pursuing it as a career. She now works as a Senior Principal Scientist and Group Leader in the De- partment of Early Discovery Biochemistry at Genentech.
Erin Dueber grew up in North Pole, Alaska, a small town in the interior of Alaska, outside of Fairbanks. “It was an amazing place to grow up, with lots of freedoms and natural beauty. The Fairbanks area is an interesting mix of people and ideas. In addition to drawing people interested in the outdoors and Alaskan life, it is a college town (University of Alaska, Fairbanks) and home to an army fort (Ft. Richardson) and a nearby air force base (Eielson Air Force Base),” she shares. “Looking back, I realize what a unique environment this was for me to spend my formative years.” “Neither of my parents were involved in science, but they valued education, problem solving, determination, and lifelong learning,” Dueber says. “My mother was a fifth-grade teacher and my father worked for the Bureau of Land Management, coordinating the maintenance of campgrounds and trails around the state. Interestingly, my older brother was also drawn to science and has been an Advanced Placement Phys- ics teacher for over 20 years.” Dueber appreciated the natural beauty around her from a young age but was not very interested in science until high school, when she started learning about DNA and proteins. In her junior year, she had the opportunity to participate in a summer research internship at the University of Alaska, Fair- banks. “That experience is what sold me on science. I abso- lutely loved doing research and continued to pursue research throughout college,” she says. “My interest in macromolecules led me toward biophysics for my PhD, as this field provided a lot of the tools I needed to dissect and understand the mech- anisms of macromolecules.” After high school, she attended Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, double-majoring in biochemistry and chemistry. She then earned her PhD in the lab of David Agard in the Biophysics Program at the University of California, San Francisco. Following her PhD studies, Dueber worked as an independent postdoctoral fellow at the Miller Institute for Basic Research
in Science at the University of California, Berkeley, hosted by James Berger . Her work focused on X-ray crystallography of DNA-protein complexes in DNA replication initiation. In 2008, she was hired as a scientist by Genentech, applying her training as a protein biophysicist to investigate molecular mechanisms that underly normal human biology and dis- ease states. “Most of these studies involve protein-protein interactions in signaling pathways that are often impacted by post-translational modifications like phosphorylation, ubiq- uitination, or proteolysis,” she explains. The biggest challenge in her career has been establishing her lab and a new career in industry at the same time that she was starting a family. “Adding to this challenge was the fact that my husband was also beginning his career as a pre-ten- ure academic. Those early years were not easy!” she says. “I found that it helped to keep home and work as separate as possible—to be focused and efficient at work and then unplug and concentrate on my family when I was home. I also learned to ask for help, delegate instead of doing everything myself, and to be adaptable and resilient—not everything was going to go according to plan.” Currently, she is a Senior Principal Scientist and Group Leader in the Department of Early Discovery Biochemistry at Ge- nentech. “In this role, I continue to oversee basic research projects aimed at understanding molecular mechanisms of signaling, as well as drug discovery efforts,” she shares. “Our projects span a variety of therapeutic areas, including infec- tious disease, immunology, and oncology.” “Being a research biophysicist really ticks all of the boxes for what I want for a fulfilling career—solving challenging puzzles that require creativity and perseverance, continuous learning, and being able to share knowledge.” If she weren’t a scientist, she says, “Investigative journalism intrigues me for similar reasons, but I don’t think that I would enjoy the stress of publishing deadlines! Some friends have suggested that I could open a bakery as second career, as I do really enjoy
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