Alumni Spotlight, featuring Lana Saleh
In this edition of BMB’s Alumni Spotlight, we feature Lana Saleh, Ph.D.
Lana is currently a Senior Scientist and Group Leader in the Molecular Enzymology Division at New England Biolabs, a world leader in the discovery and production of enzymes for molecular biology applications. She attended the American University of Beirut to pursue her undergraduate education and in 1997 graduated with her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Chemistry. Lana immigrated to the United States in 1997 and attended Youngstown State University (YSU) to pursue her master’s degree. While at YSU she studied under the mentorship of Professor, Jeffrey A. Smiley, and focused her research on purification and spectral studies of Orotidine 5’-Monophosphate Decarboxylase. In 1999 Lana earned her Master’s of Science degree in Chemistry.
Having fell in love with the study of enzymes, Lana chose Happy Valley to pursue her graduate work in Penn State’s Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology (BMMB) Program under the direction of Professor of Chemistry and of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Joseph Martin Bollinger Jr. Her thesis work focused on Oxygen Activation and Electron Transfer in the Class I Ribonucleotide Reductase, which she successfully completed in 2005.
It was Lana’s Postdoctoral Fellowship that brought her to New England Biolabs in 2006. Over the past 15 years, she has served as a Postdoctoral Fellow, Research Scientist, Staff Scientist, and now in her current role as a Senior Scientist. Her current research is focused on discovery and characterization of nucleic-acid modification enzymes. Her group uses a variety of bioinformatic, synthetic biology, mmolecular biology, and biochemical tools to understand the mode of function of these enzymes.
Throughout her career, Lana has also served the scientific community in many volunteer roles. Since 2018 she has served as a Counselor for the American Chemical Society. She has also served as a member of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Minority Affairs Committee (ASBMB MAC) from 2014 until 2021 and chaired the M.B. Sewer Distinguished Scholarship for Undergraduate, as well as the Professor Rounds Mentoring Program in ASBMB MAC.
Let’s chat with Lana, talk about her experiences while at Penn State, and catch up with what she’s been up to.
What is it that you do at New England Biolabs?
As a group leader in the research department, I am responsible for proposing novel research questions that I envision to be of significance to my field and the company. I direct my group in their investigation of these questions, and together we design experiments, analyze data, and publish our findings. I present the findings in internal meetings, scientific conferences, and seminar visits to other institutions. I also lead collaborative studies with internal and external groups. My group’s research directives are not commercial although it is common that we come up with some neat ideas for commercialization during the course of our research. In this case, we conduct proof of principal experiments to show the utility of our proposed product and if successful we pass it on to scientists within the company that are responsible for development and commercialization. I also provide material and proofread patent applications that are related to my work.
What was it that made you want to come to Penn State, and BMB, to pursue your education?
In my Masters thesis work, I conducted research in the area of biochemistry and enzymology and fell in love with the field so I decided to pursue a Ph.D. My advisor at the time recommended PSU as it hosted very talented enzymologists such as my Ph.D. advisor Prof. Marty Bollinger, Jr. and my mentor and thesis committee members Profs. Squire Booker and Carsten Krebs.
How do you feel Penn State, and BMB, prepared you for your current position or career?
In the Bollinger group, I learned to think about how enzymes function in vitro and in vivo. I became proficient in the field of enzyme kinetics and learned a variety of spectroscopic techniques that are used to uncover enzyme structure and function. Marty was instrumental in teaching me how to write scientific papers and in his lab I had my first management experience as I mentored undergraduate students in the group.
Did you conduct research while at Penn State? Where was your research conducted and what was its focus?
I studied the electron transfer mechanism of the Escherichia coli ribonucleotide reductase R2 subunit as part of my thesis work in the lab of Prof. Marty Bollinger, Jr. in the BMB department.
Share at least one interesting/fun fact about yourself.
I am a Dance Mom. My two daughters are competitive dancers and we as a family spend many weekends in dance competitions.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I love fitness classes, travel, and trying new restaurants. I enjoy cooking and learning how to make new recipes. I am passionate about issues of equality, diversity, and inclusion in science and I am in the leadership committee of Diversity and Inclusion at NEB. I also served as a member of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Minority Affairs Committee from 2014-2021.
Advice from Lana to future generations of scientists:
Be present in every moment and soak in the experience. You are a college student once in your lifetime and it is by far the best of experiences. Be inclusive of everyone.