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Pioneering Science and Collaboration: Dr. Seema Mattoo's Trailblazing Journey


In the realm of academia, where disciplines often stand as distinct silos, Dr. Seema Mattoo, an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Purdue University, emerges as a trailblazer. Her journey, marked by resilience, curiosity, and a willingness to step outside her comfort zone, encapsulates the essence of groundbreaking scientific exploration.


A Journey Through Adversity and Academia 

Mattoo's journey began in Kashmir, India, a region steeped in diverse cultures and languages, but also marred by political conflict. Focused on education, her community's resilience in the face of adversity set the stage for her academic pursuits. During her second year of college, she and her family had to flee the genocide of her people in Kashmir, an experience that added a layer of depth to her commitment to education. The path led her to the University of Maryland and on to UCLA, where her graduate research led to the discovery of new aspects of bacterial virulence and aided in the development of the D-TaP vaccine for whooping cough.


From Vaccines to Cellular Mysteries: A Pivotal Shift 

While her early work addressed critical health issues, it was at UC San Diego and later at Purdue University that Mattoo pivoted from bacteria towards unraveling the intricate world of mammalian cellular mechanisms. Her multidisciplinary approach, blending microbiology, biochemistry, structural biology, and cell biology, set the stage for groundbreaking research - discovering a new class of enzymes called Fic proteins. Today, Fic proteins are recognized as key regulators of cellular communication in humans and other organisms.


Breakthroughs in Parkinson's Research

In the pursuit of understanding diseases linked to protein misfolding, Mattoo's team uncovered a potential breakthrough in aging related ailments like Parkinson's disease. The human Fic protein HYPE, a key regulator in cellular stress response, demonstrated the ability to modify alpha-synuclein (aSyn), reducing its aggregation. This discovery opens new avenues for preventive and therapeutic strategies, transcending traditional approaches to focus on the fundamental processes within cells. Her collaboration with Jean-Christophe Rochet, a professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology, played an important role in advancing this Parkinson's research.


Transcending Disciplines: CryoAPEX Technique

Mattoo's commitment to interdisciplinary research manifested in the development of the cryoAPEX technique. Merging high-pressure freezing and chemical fixation, this innovative electron microscopy method allows for precise tracking of membrane proteins within well-preserved cells. Her work with cryoAPEX becomes a versatile tool for diverse researchers, fostering a new era in cellular imaging.


Navigating Challenges and Advocating for Inclusivity

As a woman of color in science, Mattoo navigates challenges with resilience and a commitment to inclusivity. Her experiences highlight the need for a supportive scientific community that doesn’t just recognize but also celebrates diversity within academia. Advocating for collaboration and leveraging diverse strengths, she embodies the transformative power of unity in advancing scientific understanding.

Her journey is not without its personal challenges. Small instances, like being the only woman in a meeting with assumptions about her role, and larger hardships that come with being a working mother, have tested her resilience. A colleague's comment during a challenging health crisis, suggesting that "this field is not meant for a woman," reflects the broader hurdles women in science still face. While acknowledging the difficulties, Mattoo also emphasizes the progress made and the importance of supporting the next generation. She believes in the generosity of a fellowship of scientists, striving to pave the way and eliminate hurdles for those who follow.


Mentoring and Teaching Innovation

Mattoo credits much of success to some of the most hardworking, dedicated students who joined her early lab, notably Anwesha Sanyal, Hee-Jeong Kim and Ben Watson. In addition to graduate students and Postdocs, Matto’s lab is very popular with undergraduates interested in research. She has trained nearly 50 undergrads, several of whom have graduated with an Honors Thesis and with authorship on publications. All of her trainees (undergrad to postdocs) routinely win awards, including the prestigious Barry Goldwater Fellowship. These aspects of training and love for scientific enquiry extend beyond the lab and into the classroom. Her Medical Microbiology course has functioned as a CURE (Curriculum-based Undergraduate Research Experience), and she has incorporated AI and the use of ChatGPT into the curriculum. Mattoo’s was one of the first courses in the Life Sciences to adopt AI. She also teach ethics and responsible conduct of research, and is part of the Elevate program which fosters inclusion through team activities in the classroom.


Unlocking a Blueprint for Health: The ER as a Disease Safeguard 

Mattoo's commitment to advancing her research extends beyond traditional academic avenues. In response to a funding competition through the Life Sciences Summit, an exciting initiative by Purdue to develop synergies across various research areas to tackle a critical health related challenge, she successfully led a team to secure a winning spot.

Mattoo’s presentation at the Life Sciences Summit was entitled "Unlocking a Blueprint for Health: The Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER) as a Disease Safeguard." Collaborating with a diverse team including Vikki Weake, Bryon Drown, Fang Huang, Christina Ferriera, Jonathan Schlebach, Rams Subramanian, Eugenio Culurciello, Daniel Flaherty, and Alex Chortos, her proposal focuses on understanding the fundamental steps crucial for protein folding within the ER.


A Testament to Curiosity and Collaboration

Dr. Seema Mattoo's journey within the College of Science at Purdue University stands as a testament to the transformative power of curiosity, collaboration, and resilience. Her amassed expertise from bacteriology to unraveling scientific mysteries in human cells, combined with a commitment to teaching, mentoring, and inclusivity, positions her as a beacon of inspiration for the scientific community. Such an unconventional path is rarely easy or quick. Mattoo is grateful to the many supporters in her journey who held faith in her abilities. One such recognition came in late 2022 when she was selected as one of six scientists for the inaugural class of the Hypothesis Fund, an innovative funding mechanism that identifies and promotes “bold new ideas in basic research”. As she continues to unlock the secrets within cells, Mattoo's work reflects the spirit of innovation that defines Purdue University's legacy in pushing the boundaries of scientific exploration.


About the Department of Biological Sciences at Purdue University

Purdue University's Department of Biological Sciences is committed to conducting innovative research that addresses pressing challenges in the life sciences. What we do is biology at scales. With a focus on interdisciplinary collaboration and cutting-edge technologies, our faculty and students are at the forefront of discovery and innovation. We provide life changing education and game changing research. Learn more at



Writer: Alisha Referda,

Source: Seema Mattoo,

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