Profile: Bertina Telusma

Person smiling with lab equipment in background.

By the Bench

“I love research!” is one of the first things we hear Bertina say when she takes a moment from her experiments to chat with us. A middle child with two older sisters and two younger brothers, Bertina loves dancing in her free time, especially Compas, a meringue-style dance with Haitian roots. Bertina’s family immigrated to Florida from Haiti in 2008 and Haiti has a special place in her heart. “It was a big transition,” she says. “Growing up in Haiti made me see firsthand how medicine can alleviate sickness, and so I wanted to become a doctor when I grow up. I went to Barry University in Florida and there I tried the RISE program (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement) and I learned about doing research as a career. It was very demanding but it really helped my science.”

Bertina Telusma attended Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, where she did research for almost two years in Dr. Teresa Petrino-Lin lab and studied Polycomb genes in zebrafish. Bertina was selected to participate in the highly competitive MIT Undergraduate Summer Research Program (MSRP-Bio) and spent 10 weeks working in the laboratory of Dr. David Page. With her graduate student mentor, Mina Kojima, Bertina was looking for binding proteins of STRA8, proteins required for pre-meiotic DNA replication in mice. “I did lots of IPs and Westerns and found two binding partners,” Bertina says excitedly. Bertina presented her summer research at the ABRCMS conference in November 2015 and won a poster award.

Bertina’s time at MIT did not end with MSRP-Bio in 2015. “On the first day of the summer program Steve Bell gave a talk to us and it was amazing.” Bertina contacted him to learn more and eventually decided to dive into research more deeply. “Mandana Sassanfar (director of MSRP-Bio) contacted the director of the RISE program and the dean of the college at Barry who agreed to let me participate in a research semester in Steve Bell’s lab at MIT,” explains Bertina. It is the first time the MIT Department of Biology extended the research experience of an MSRP student by offering them a semester-long opportunity.  In January, Bertina participated in the intensive MIT Quantitative Methods Workshop, and since then she has been doing research in the Bell lab full-time. Bertina was also nominated by MIT Biology Professor Cathy Drennan for the prestigious HHMI EXROP program and was selected. The EXROP program allowed her to continue in her work in the Bell lab through the summer 2016 supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

“The Bell lab studies DNA replication in yeast. My project aimed to get a better understanding of how ORC (Origin Recognition Complex) binds DNA and recruits multiple proteins to unwind DNA and initiate replication,” describes Bertina. She investigated the molecular mechanism of ORC function using nanobodies (single domain antibodies) and a helicase loading assay. “Steve is a great mentor, really present in the lab. I meet with him every week to look at data,” Bertina says. “If I have questions people in the lab help me – I have no assigned mentor and so I have complete independence in the lab which is great.” Bertina feels very fortunate. “My responsibility is to take advantage of my opportunities and give back. Now I am thinking about definitely going to graduate school. I really like science, so definitely a PhD – it is another way to give back and make a difference.”