Transitioning from the halls of academia to a position in private industry can be an adventure. So, what happens when you make what you consider to be “a fantastic land” with an opportunity to integrate your glycobiology expertise just before the arrival of a global pandemic? Mark B. Jones, PhD, who took on a scientist role at a biotech startup in Cambridge, MA, at the beginning of 2020, has learned to appreciate his fantastic commute and schedule precious bench time each week, even under conditions where many of us are primarily conducting our work virtually. While Mark did some limited classroom teaching in academia, his later roles involved a juggling act of balancing academic-industrial liaisons, intra-academic collaborative carbohydrate projects, laboratory training of colleagues, report generation, and grant writing, with a little bit of bench time each week. In his new position, he investigates the influence that Siglecs (sialic-acid-binding immunoglobulin-like lectins) have on cellular behavior and assesses candidate proteins for novel therapeutic applications.
“How do you balance doing so much computer work and writing and then make the quick transition to doing bench work? You cannot just carve a week away and do just bench work. Deadlines don’t wait for you in that fashion. Trying to do that kind of juggling was a learned skill, and it’s applicable to what I do currently in biotech.”
Mark’s early fascination with science started with rational, explainable factoids he read in scientific magazines and grew in high school math, biology, and chemistry, which had a systematic way of describing everything. In college, he worked a stint in a wet lab at Johns Hopkins University to experience what it would be like to work in biology. There he met a long-term mentor with an infectious enthusiasm for science that had an influence so strong that Mark completed both his BS and MSE in Biomedical Engineering with Kevin J. Yarema, in a discipline where he could blend all those topics of interest together. It was during this time that he also became enamored with sialylation and the field of glycobiology. While he considered continuing his doctorate under his favorite mentor, Mark thoughtfully notes that broadening his experiences at a different lab was a significant step in his scientific training, enabling him to embrace a different track with new approaches, perspective, and exposure. Today he describes himself as a molecular biologist by training with specializations in immunology and glycobiology who studies how glycans influence cellular behavior.
“My mentor’s enthusiasm for carbohydrates was just absolutely infectious. I clearly caught the bug—or he gave it to me. I still talk to him all the time, even in my transition to my current role…I tell him that he’s the reason I’m in this carbohydrate conundrum.”
In the earlier days of his career, the challenges of the field included a lack of antibodies and a limited number of glycobiology tools. While there still are funding barriers that make it difficult to support a laboratory on glycobiology projects alone, there is promise in the field and a broadening availability of tools through a variety of sources. He also has seen his groundbreaking work from several years ago, which showed glycosylation taking place in the bloodstream, and significantly, outside the cell, be recapitulated and taken forward by others in the field. Mark can trace his use of Vector Laboratories’ products back to his work in the early 2000s with the lectin SNA, and has since conducted prelaunch product testing on new lectin-fluorophore conjugates for flow cytometry and VECTASHIELD Antifade Mounting Media products. He takes pride in his most recent collaboration with us on the Lectins Application and Resource Guide, considering his role in reviewing the details and consolidating information into a single resource as a privilege. Mark appreciates that formerly obscure glycosylation processes are now tied prominently into many fields of research and, like many glyco-fans, he enjoys the moments when colleagues, collaborators, and former students blurt out that their favorite protein is a glycoprotein.