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Biochemistry and Molecular Biotechnology Blog

Josue Flores Kim

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Josue Flores-Kim


Josue Flores KimI was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where I obtained my undergraduate degree in Industrial Biotechnology at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez campus. I moved to New York City to do my Ph.D. in molecular microbiology at the Vilcek Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at NYU School of Medicine under the guidance of Dr. Andrew J. Darwin. My thesis focused on understanding how signal transduction is achieved in the Phage-shock-protein (Psp) system of Yersinia enterocolitica, an extracytoplasmic stress response that is essential for the virulence of several bacteria. For my postdoctoral studies, I joined Tom Bernhardt and David Rudner’s laboratories in the Microbiology department at Harvard Medical School. The general scope of my postdoc research was to study cell envelope biosynthesis pathways in the human opportunistic respiratory pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae, which I will continue to investigate as an Assistant Professor in the BMB department starting in January 2022.

What set you on this trajectory of becoming a scientist?

Honestly, it was boredom and money - Probably one of the few academics that started this line of work for the money! I was very bored with the undergraduate track that I initially chose, so I started to look for other courses that caught my attention – these included microbiology, immunology, genetics, and molecular biology. Also, during that time I was in a very poor financial situation, and I found a program (MARC/SLOAN) that paid you to do research at my home institution and travel (to do research abroad and present your work at various conferences).

Were there any setbacks you faced on your journey and what did you do to overcome them?

Without a doubt, implicit and explicit biases. These problems are very difficult and convoluted to address here, but sometimes I overcame some of the situations by just working harder, questioning everything, and making sure my point was being heard and understood - Like the great John Lewis said, getting into good trouble, necessary trouble.

What is your current research focus?

My lab will investigate the long-lasting question of how antibiotics function by using an interdisciplinary approach to genetically and biochemically characterize the regulatory networks that control cell envelope biogenesis in bacterial pathogens and to determine how these pathways are corrupted to cause cell death or evolve to cause antibiotic resistance. 

How does your research apply to the broader world and why is it important outside of the scientific community?

Understanding the mechanisms of drug action have proven fundamental for the development of therapeutics and essential when identifying the basis of drug-resistance. Remarkably, little is known about how our most successful antibiotics to treat bacterial infections function. This lack of knowledge has contributed to the emergence and spread of multidrug-resistant bacteria. We will tackle this critical knowledge gap by characterizing at the molecular level the mode-of-action of some antibiotics and their targets, which will aid in the optimization of current and novel antimicrobials.

Why did you choose UMass Chan?

I listened to my gut (see below!). The BMB department and UMass Chan have incredible facilities, and great and highly collaborative faculty and trainees. But overall, people are extremely dedicated at maintaining a great and inclusive community.

What is the coolest thing about your research?

As any other research program, the coolest thing to me about my research is trying to solve the puzzle, the many ways we get to tackle it, and how after every part of the puzzle is “solved” we just get to generate a more complicated one. I also find interesting the complexity of the mechanisms employed by bacteria to grow, divide, and adopt their cell shapes, which even after years of research remains an exciting puzzle. Also, the pace of how bacteria “outsmart” us at every step to become resistant to most (all?) existing antimicrobials is remarkable to me.

What’s one thing you would like to achieve while doing your research?

To be a great mentor and get my trainees to wherever they want to get. I believe that achieving this will help every other thing fall into place. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to answer a few fundamental questions about bacterial cell biology along the way… 

What are some of the lessons you learned along the way that you would like to share with trainees who recently joined our department?

Ask tons of questions, follow your gut, question everything, work very very very hard, and make sure to be always on time.

Any advice you wished you had gotten when you first started as a scientist?

Make yourself heard, more so when people are not listening to you.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years, and how can this department help you get there?

Hopefully still doing experiments at the bench, and not only writing grants. AND celebrating FC Barcelona’s treble!!

Is there something you would say to your younger self?

Visit home (Puerto Rico) more often.