After seven years of working for global NGOs in Europe, Jacinta Flattery-O’Brien was looking for a new challenge.

She began a Bachelor of Science in London, before moving back to Australia to complete her degree at the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences.

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Jacinta gravitated towards molecular biology thanks to the department’s inspirational lecturers. Any lingering doubts about her new career path were swept away when she was awarded the university medal for her honours year in Prof Ian Dawes’ lab. 

“This led to a scholarship to undertake a PhD with Ian, and the rest is history!”

Jacinta aimed to expand our understanding of how cells protect themselves against the “oxygen paradox”. While oxygen is essential for survival, its use in mitochondrial ATP production generates damaging free radicals.

Initially, she explored the transcriptional regulation of a gene called SOD2 in yeast.

“That was really interesting, but it was difficult to obtain consistent results.”

Jacinta instead shifted her focus to RAD9. This gene stops the cell cycle at the G1 checkpoint in response to DNA damage.

She found that yeast cells without functioning RAD9 were up to 100 times more sensitive to hydrogen peroxide than wild type cells, showing the important role the cell cycle plays in protecting against oxidative stress.

“Like many PhD students I enjoyed being the very first in the world to notice an effect. It’s been rewarding to see that articles published from my PhD are still being cited.”  

During her PhD, Jacinta saw an ad in the newspaper for a patent attorney and realised that this offered the opportunity to look at cutting-edge research without all the benchwork.

Jacinta is now a highly successful patent attorney specialising in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

“The work is often high tech and high risk, which makes it exciting and challenging.”

Jacinta credits her PhD for building up her work ethic and her resilience.

“Stay positive, communicate with those around you and embrace a change in direction if you’ve persisted long enough.”

Written by Krista Recsei