Simran Sokhi ’22 – Research Internship at Duke-NUS, Singapore (Summer 2020)

Simran Sokhi on virtual call with fellow researchers

My last memory of Duke right before all campus activities shut down and students returned home is a happy one. I was spending Spring Break with my fellow Spring Breakthrough Participants and we were having the most wonderful time volunteering at the puppy kindergarten, learning about canine cognition with Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, and even visiting a goat farm and the NC Zoo.

The pandemic that created chaos across the world put me in an initial state of despair, confusion and hopelessness when I realized that the internship positions I had applied for were no longer open and I had to return to Singapore indefinitely and deal with the monster that is online classes in a time zone that was exactly 12 hours ahead of Durham.

I was therefore immensely grateful and excited when I reached out to Dr. Virshup in the Cancer and Stem Cell Biology department of Duke-NUS and gained his approval to conduct my summer research in his lab. Last year too, I interned in his lab over the summer and I investigated RNF43 mutants in relation to the Wnt Signaling pathway. This year, however, things looked very different as due to the COVID circuit breaking measures in place, I conducted my research remotely rather than doing wet lab work. I worked with Dr. YuJia and Dr. Virshup to hypothesize and model molecules involved in the Wnt signaling pathway. This involved not only gaining an understanding of the biochemistry involved in molecular interactions, but also testing and learning new software such as PyMOL, which allows one to visualize 3D molecules. I also learnt how to use a variety of molecular prediction and protein-protein docking softwares.

Ultimately, we were able to create a predicted model for our molecules as well as predict the interfaces that they interact with each other through. The next steps will involve testing these out in the laboratory to validate our predictions.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and while this year has already been far from what I had imagined it to be, I made the most of my summer research and consider myself blessed to have been amongst family and friends in Singapore.