Welcoming Professor Danielle L. Schmitt

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The department welcomes talented metabolic biochemist Professor Danielle L. Schmitt, who joins the UCLA faculty as an Assistant Professor of biochemistry.

Professor Danielle Schmitt joined our biochemistry faculty in July 2022 as an Assistant Professor. An Ohio native, Schmitt obtained a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biochemistry from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. There she performed undergraduate research with Professor Bruce Storhoff as a Lewis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation scholar and also interned at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate.

Schmitt received her Ph.D. in chemistry and biochemistry under the mentorship of Professor Songon An at the University of Maryland Baltimore County where she used fluorescence microscopy to study metabolons, or phase-separated complexes formed by metabolic enzymes.

Her passion for using microscopy tools to interrogate cellular events led Schmitt to join Professor Jin Zhang’s lab in the Pharmacology department at University of California, San Diego, as a postdoctoral fellow. There, she focused on the novel design and application of genetically encoded fluorescent protein-based biosensors, focusing on AMP activated protein kinase (AMPK). Schmitt’s postdoctoral work was recognized and supported by an NIH/NCI Biochemistry of Growth Regulation and Oncogenesis Cancer Training Grant, and an NIH/NIGMS Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award K12 (IRACDA). She was also awarded a prestigious University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship and chaired the “Metabolism and Bioenergetics” Spotlight Session for the 2020 ASBMB Annual Meeting.

“We welcome Danielle to UCLA,” said Professor Miguel García-Garibay, UCLA’s Dean of Physical Sciences. “She is a talented teacher and researcher who already has a stellar track record of teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students. We look forward to helping her launch her independent research lab, and seeing her inspire the next generation of scientists here at UCLA.”

The research in the Schmitt group is focused on answering the question: How does the cell organize essential processes like metabolism and signaling to coordinate cell function and fate? To answer this question, the Schmitt group takes a multi-disciplinary approach to identify mechanisms for subcellular compartmentation of metabolic processes, including signaling networks regulating metabolism and metabolites. They develop genetically encoded fluorescent protein-based biosensors to study cellular activity in single cells in real time with high spatial and temporal resolution using live cell fluorescence microscopy. They use these biosensors to (1) study kinase signaling networks which regulate metabolic processes and (2) interrogate subcellular dynamics of metabolites. Her group is interested in understanding how metabolism is spatiotemporally regulated in the cell, and how diseases of metabolic origin, like cancer and inborn errors of metabolism perturb this regulation.

“We are so excited to welcome Danielle to UCLA,” said Distinguished Professor Neil Garg, the Kenneth N. Trueblood Endowed Chair in Chemistry and Biochemistry and Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Her creative and novel approaches to the study of metabolism and its regulation will illuminate biochemistry for our students, postdocs, and colleagues. ”

Biochemistry Professor Catherine Clarke said of Schmitt, “Danielle has developed sensitive molecular probes that report on the activity of specific kinases in different cellular compartments, including the lysosome, mitochondria, nucleus and cytosol. Moreover, the probes she has created function in real-time in live cells and thus provide readouts of “native biochemical activity”. She is now poised to examine the role of metabolic compartmentalization in health and disease, as well as to extend the design of probes to track and detect how specific metabolites are compartmentalized. It will be very exciting to observe how the tools the Schmitt lab continue to develop will reveal the intracellular workings of signal transduction and metabolic regulation.”

“Danielle Schmitt represents a new wave of biochemists using novel technologies to address fundamental problems in human metabolism,” said Biochemist Professor Steven Clarke. “Significantly her pioneering work with the AMP protein kinase, a master regulator of energy metabolism, harks back to the 1964 discovery in our department by Emeritus Professor Daniel E. Atkinson of energy charge. It also reflects on the biochemical principles brought forth by two other early members of the biochemistry division, Emeritus Professor Charles West and the late Professor Roberts Smith. With Danielle’s arrival, the tradition of cutting-edge metabolic biochemistry continues on the fifth floor of Young Hall!”