GRADUATE STUDENT PROFILE
Accomplished biochem grad will put skills to work in law
By David Hutton
Creative, diverse, and driven are character traits that define U of S biochemistry graduate student David Wood.
The 26-year-old Wood, from Prince Albert, helps publish a popular campus comic strip, is an avid paintballer, a bass guitar player, plans to become a patent lawyer and, over the past five years, has helped unravel the complexities of M-DNA, a metal-DNA complex discovered by U of S Prof. Jeremy Lee which has enormous potential for development.
Working under the tutelage of Prof. Lee, Wood was able to build on the initial M-DNA discovery and shed light on new, important areas that needed to be researched.
“The work I did wasn’t working towards developing a specific application for M-DNA, but any application that will come out of the research that uses M-DNA will benefit from my study,” notes Wood, who was the third student to work on M-DNA under Lee. “You can’t just look under a microscope and see DNA sticking to metal, you have to know if it will form or not under different conditions.”
Wood’s study aimed at improving existing methods and developing new ways of characterizing M-DNA as well as finding out under what conditions the molecule is stable.
“A big section of my research explored the effect of chemically modifying DNA on the formation of M-DNA,” explains Wood. “We made several chemical modifications and looked at how they affected formation of M-DNA. Based on the effects of various chemical modifications on the propensity of DNA to complex with metal ions and form M-DNA, we could make rational inferences about its structure.
“The project ended up being really different than we thought it would be,” continues Wood, noting that he initially planned to raise antibodies for M-DNA, but had problems detecting them. Overall, however, Wood is satisfied with the conclusion of his work.
“I had to do a lot of independent learning, but the more independently you can learn the more useful you can be,” he says.
Wood notes that M-DNA could lead to the development of microscopic computer chips and replace even the smallest of silicon chips used in today’s electronics. It is also being applied in the screening of genetic diseases.
Over the five-year period of study, Wood also made time for his other interests, including publishing a popular campus comic strip, “Danger Joel,” in the Sheaf, the student newspaper. Along with his friends, Les Parker, who illustrates the strip, and another writer and fellow graduate student, Phil Gobeil, Wood created two comics per week, before taking a leave from the creative team at Christmas to polish off his thesis.
“It’s definitely a creative outlet and of course very distinct from my work,” says Wood. “It’s a lot of fun.”
“The idea for the Danger Joel comic came about when our friend Joel was tobogganing and rode down a hill while standing up on a crazy carpet! Another friend of mine, Derek, gave him the nickname ‘Danger Joel’ and he hated it. Months later we decided to base a comic around it. He was like a superhero but he wasn’t interested in helping people as much as putting himself in danger, although the superhero aspect disappeared during the evolution of the strip.”
Wood plans to apply his science background in law and will enter the U of S College of Law in September, where he plans to study patent law.
“I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to spend my whole life studying. The projects I read about were for the most part not enticing. When I thought about it I came to the conclusion that instead of focusing on one aspect of science I could work with many aspects of science.”
“If you think about intellectual property law, you can’t really argue points about the law unless you understand the science,” says Wood. “Biotechnology is an expanding field and there are many precedents waiting to be set.”
David Hutton writes graduate student profiles for the College of Graduate Studies and Research.