Interview with Dr. Daniel Kim, Assistant Professor of Biomolecular Engineering

Daniel Kim
Monday, November 14, 2016
Rachel Reed, IBSC Executive Administrative Assistant

Rachel: How did you make the decision to choose UC Santa Cruz?
Daniel: I really enjoyed all of my interactions with the people I met in my department and in the broader stem cell, RNA, and genomics communities, many of whom are leading researchers in their fields. I felt that UCSC would provide wonderful opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations at the interface of these exciting areas of research.

Rachel: How did you find your way to the field of stem cells?
Daniel: I was really intrigued by Shinya Yamanaka’s discovery ten years ago that a combination of four transcription factors could reprogram virtually any cell into an induced pluripotent stem cell with the capacity to become all cell types in the body.

Rachel: What is the overall goal of your research?
Daniel: I’d like to understand how long noncoding RNAs reprogram the epigenome, using induced pluripotent stem cells and mouse models of cancer. There are thousands of these long noncoding RNA genes in our genome, and we know very little about their functional roles in reprogramming and tumorigenesis.

Rachel: What is the most exciting result you have gotten so far?
Daniel: We’ve found that hundreds of these long noncoding RNAs are dynamically expressed during defined stages of reprogramming, and we’re beginning to uncover some of their novel functions in epigenomic regulation.

Rachel: In your field, what discoveries do you think will be made in 10 years?
Daniel: It’s really hard to say, but in the next 10 years, I hope we’ll know enough about long noncoding RNAs and epigenomic reprogramming to be able to more precisely engineer and manipulate cell fate, both in vitro and in vivo.

Rachel: What's the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?
Daniel: I think it’s been trying to balance work and family. I have three small children and my wife also has a demanding job, so it’s usually a bit crazy in our house!

Rachel: When an institution has dual priorities (research and teaching) there will inevitably be trade-offs. How do you balance your priorities?
Daniel: Although I haven’t taught my first class yet, I’d like to incorporate some of my research into my teaching, and vice versa, so that research and teaching don’t necessarily have to be unrelated priorities.

Rachel: Who influenced you to become a scientist? How so?
Daniel: I remember reading an article on TIME Man of the Year Dr. David Ho, a world-renowned AIDS researcher who is helping many people through his research. Dr. Ho had received his undergraduate degree from Caltech, which influenced my decision to attend Caltech as well. This started me on the path to becoming a scientist, with the hope that my own research would one day help people as well.

Rachel: What general advice would you give a high school student considering a science major at UC Santa Cruz?
Daniel: UC Santa Cruz is awesome: you can do science and surfing on the same day. #justdoit Has that been 140 characters yet?

Rachel: Can you tell us about the work your Undergraduate Researchers and Rotation Students do?
Daniel: The undergraduate researchers in my lab, Erin LaMontagne and Lila Whitehead, are reprogramming brain cells into induced pluripotent stem cells and using powerful genomic tools to discover the long noncoding RNAs that are involved in this process. The rotation students in my lab, Alison Tang and Akshar Lohith, are characterizing the transposon content and full-length sequences of long noncoding RNAs, using bioinformatic tools and nanopore sequencing, respectively.

Rachel: What are some hobbies or activities that you enjoy outside of work?
Daniel: Besides holding a baby, I enjoy playing my guitar and watching and playing basketball. Go Warriors!