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Faculty Spotlight on Sebastien Poget

April 15, 2011 | Faculty

Moving to a teaching institution like the College of Staten Island after seven years at medical institutions was a welcomed change, feeling more like a real university where Dr. Sebastien Poget (Assistant Professor of Chemistry) could be more involved in the academic progress of
undergraduate students. But changes in scenery are not new to Sebastien. He was born and raised in Basel, Switzerland until the age of four when his father’s career in pharma led his family to South America. Over the next nine years in South America, he attended primary and middle school and had opportunities to explore the Andes Mountains and rainforests of Ecuador and the subtropical beaches of Uruguay. Sebastien returned to Switzerland to attend high school. Having a penchant for tinkering and conducting amateur chemistry experiments as a child, Sebastien contemplated his future in civil engineering, but entered the University of Basel as a Chemistry major and secured an undergraduate research project in bio-organic synthesis. The study of organic synthesis now had a hold of him and after graduation, he left Switzerland again to pursue a PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge focusing on protein engineering in the multidisciplinary lab of Dr. Alan Fersht. His dissertation focused on C-type lectin binding domains and working with the lab’s senior postdoc (an NMR specialist), he determined the crystal structure and characterized ligand binding in a tunicate (sea squirt) model. C-type lectin domains are found in many transmembrane proteins and are often associated with immune response.

Postdoctoral opportunities brought Sebastien to New York City where he continued to use NMR and biophysical techniques to study ion channels and transporters in different membrane mimetics (artificial membranes, micelles, and bicelles), first at Rockefeller University, and later at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. Since starting at the College of Staten Island in the spring of 2009, he has continued his focus on natural killer cell receptors as well as expanding his research to examining ion channels—transmembrane proteins that are responsible for the electric signal transmission in nerves and the regulation of the heartbeat. Many animal toxins target these ion channels, disrupting the propagation of electrical signals in cells. With collaborators across CUNY, Dr. Poget is studying the interactions of these toxins with several ion channels to better understand channel structure and function, and also as potential templates for designing therapeutic drugs that could act in a subtler manner than today’s channel blocker drugs.

Phospholipid environments are crucial to studying transmembrane proteins and Sebastien continues to explore the use of artificial membrane mimetics, particularly bicelles, in studying these proteins and to develop new, more efficient methods of incorporating proteins into these membrane models. Being at CSI has been a learning experience and Sebastien has had to parse this research into small projects that are suitable for undergrads and still have his overall research goals in mind. He has recently recruited a number of undergraduates from his General Chemistry course who are mastering basic molecular biology lab techniques such as cell culture, cloning, and transformation and last summer, a Macaulay Honors College student began work on ion channel toxins. He is continuing his recruiting efforts in General Chemistry this semester while also revising the department’s Biochemistry labs to be more in line with his own research program: more exploratory in nature and plans to develop a new course in Biophysical Chemistry in the near future. This past year, he has recruited a postdoc, Dr. Mangmang Zhu, to join his research group and invited a number of PhD students to do rotations in his lab—he hopes to advise his first PhD student beginning this year.