Samuel Hjorth-Jensen, ESR12

Picture Sam rognee 2Samuel is completing his PhD at Aarhus University, in Denmark.

His subject is Crystallographic investigations of the sarco/endoplasmic reticulum Ca2+-ATPase:
towards neutron, time-resolved, and novel
inhibitor structures

On Twitter: @SamHjorthJensen

Tell us about yourself

I grew up in Pittsworth, a small country town in Queensland, Australia. Growing up in Australia has provided me with a love of the outdoors – I enjoy being in the sun while kayaking, hiking or swimming in the ocean. Education wise, I have completed a Bachelor degree in Exercise Science from James Cook University in tropical far-north Queensland, as well as a Postgraduate Diploma of Biotechnology and a Masters Degree in Applied Science (Research) from Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. My Masters was about investigating the protein crosslinking activity of the transglutaminase class of enzymes. I also spent a couple months during my Postgraduate Diploma working on a project investigating the role of tranglutaminase 2 crosslinking in insulin-like growth factor 1 signaling.

My father is Danish and although I have previously travelled to Denmark on family vacations, I have never lived in Denmark. My extended family still live here and I am appreciative for the chance to complete my PhD in Denmark and to learn about the Danish language and culture. In my free time here, I enjoy playing guitar and experimenting in the kitchen. I am looking forward to visiting many countries and cities throughout Europe.

Why are you interested in science?

I have always had an innate curiosity, and thanks to my father, I learnt from an early age that science provides the way in which can make sense of the world around us. Science is the method by which we can take individual facts and piece them together to form a large picture. I get great fulfillment when I am able to understand how many pieces of information fit together within a larger concept.

The skills you develop in a scientific career are also transferable to life outside of the lab. The ability to source and critically analyse information on any topic allows you to make better decisions in all aspects of your life.

Tell us about your PhD project

My project is about the sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+-ATPase (SERCA), a membrane protein which performs the important function of controlling intracellular calcium levels (by pumping Ca2+ ions from the cytoplasm the endo/sarcoplasmic reticulum). The activity of SERCA is essential for proper muscle function and its dysfunction leads to diseases such as Brody’s myopathy (SERCA1) and Darier disease (SERCA2).

Capture- Sam
SERCA crystal growing within a 0.5 mm glass capillary. For neutron crystallography, a crystals of ~1 mm3 size is needed.

An in-depth understanding of SERCA structure/function is vital for developing drugs to treat the conditions in which it is involved. In our case, we aim to understand the specifics of SERCA activity by mapping hydrogens within the protein using neutron crystallography (the position of hydrogens can be determined by observing how neutrons scatter off a SERCA crystal placed in front of a neutron source).

However, this technique requires very large, high quality protein crystals – a significant challenge when the protein in question is a membrane protein! By investigating the relationships between crystallization conditions, crystal size, and diffraction quality, we hope to gain a better understanding of the crystallization process. Such knowledge will allow us to go beyond the current limits of SERCA crystallization and obtain crystals of the size/quality needed for neutron diffraction studies.

What do you enjoy most about your current position in the RAMP network?

 The aspects I have enjoyed the most about the RAMP network is the focus on teamwork and collaboration. We ESRs face common problems and challenges in our PhD projects – by pooling our knowledge and resources, we can more effectively overcome them. By building a long-lasting interdisciplinary scientific community, we will ensure that we continue to lead and innovate within the structural biology/ pharmacological fields. I believe that great knowledge, and societal benefit by extension, will be produced by the RAMP community, and am grateful to be a part of it!

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