Graduate profile - David Jacques

Biochemistry Graduate

David Jacques

Career path

Dr David Jacques
Bachelor of Science (Advanced) (Hons) in Biochemistry and Chemistry
Completed his Doctor of Philosophy in Science (PhD) in 2011

David is currently an NHMRC Early Career Fellow working in the group of Dr Leo James at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK.

David on studying science: "In my mind science is a great big puzzle, and it's our job to solve it. Of the various sciences, I always felt the greatest mysteries were in the study of life, but the science central to life is chemistry."

What does your job involve?

My research involves the study of viral infection and host immunity. Specifically, we are looking at HIV and adenovirus and the events that occur once a virus had infected the cell. In the case of adenovirus my research is focused on how the hostel cell can use intracellular antibodies to mediate virus destruction. Antibody-mediated intracellular immunity is a recently discovered property of the host defence against virus infection and current research is quickly rewriting the book on the role of antibodies in the immune system. On the other hand, HIV is largely able to evade host antibodies, and in this project we are studying how the virus has evolved to recognise intracellular co-factors to either avoid detection or to shuttle it across the cytoplasm and into the nucleus so that it can replicate.

As a structural biologist, my goal is to use techniques like X-ray crystallography to observe the interface between host and pathogen proteins at the atomic level. By being able to see at this level of detail we can understand the mechanisms of infection and immunity, and also develop compounds to block the interaction and stall virus progression.

Where do you hope to go from here and what are your career goals?

I would one day like to run my own research group, but where and researching what topic I couldn't say. Professor Jill Trewhella once told me that it can be a mistake to plan these things too much. Rather, it's better to keep your eye out for opportunities and take them when they present themselves. I think that's good advice. At this stage I want to keep learning as much as there is to know about how science is done. In practice that means learning new techniques and the LMB is the perfect place to do that, as there are so many world experts in so many different fields. And they all have lunch in the same cafeteria.

Why did you decide to study Biochemistry and Chemistry, or science in general?

I decided to study science because to me it's fun. I imagine that science would be a difficult pursuit if you didn't enjoy doing it. In my mind science is a great big puzzle, and it's our job to solve it. Of the various science, I always felt the greatest mysteries were in the study of life, but the science central to life is chemistry. That's why I studied chemistry and biochemistry.

Was it what you expected?

As an undergraduate, I was never very interested in physics. But here at the LMB I'm known as a biophysicist. I would never have expected that a few years ago, but you never know how things are going to work out.

What did you find out that unexpected but exciting while you studied?

As an undergraduate I hadn't appreciated how much biology could be studied using big machines like synchrotrons. During my PhD I had to do several crystallography experiments at synchotrons and small-angle neutron scattering at reactors. The nature of doing experiments using these international research facilities is that the pressure is on to prepare samples for your allotted date. But the experiments themselves can be exhilarating (especially if you get to travel internationally) and good results are that little bit more rewarding.

Are there extracurricular activities that students should get involved in?

In my experience, people who study science do it because they are prepared to follow their interests. One of the most amazing things about scientists are their diverse range of extracurricular interests. I've met scientists who are sportsmen, musicians, even a Nobel Prize winning spectroscopist whose passion is restoring Nepalese art. Science can be a cruel mistress sometimes, so it's important to have something you look forward to doing outside the lab, whatever it is.