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Student Q&A: Corey Asimacopoulos-Kennelly, Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences

Corey Asimacopoulos-Kennelly

Corey Asimacopoulos-Kennelly, a fourth-year student in the Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences, studies Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an antibiotic-resistant pathogen in the laboratory of Arthur Prindle, PhD, assistant professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics and at the McCormick School of Engineering.

Read a Q&A with Asimacopoulos-Kennelly below.

Where is your hometown?

I grew up outside of a small town in eastern Michigan called Clio. The nearest city is Flint and that is where I attended university for my undergraduate degree.

What are your research interests?

My research interests lie primarily within the field of microbiology, although I have also dabbled in cancer biology during my undergraduate training. I find bacteria fascinating and am generally interested in how bacteria sense and respond to their environment and how they regulate these responses.

What exciting projects are you working on?

I study Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an opportunistic pathogen that is frequently resistant to multiple antibiotics and causes many healthcare-associated infections worldwide. Nucleobases and related molecules like adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) are important for DNA and RNA synthesis, metabolism and cell signaling.

While most bacteria are able to create nucleobase-related molecules through energy-intensive de novo synthesis pathways, many bacteria are also able to salvage these molecules directly from their environment when available. P. aeruginosa has thirteen genes annotated as putative nucleobase transporters; however, these genes are poorly studied.

My current project aims to improve our understanding of nucleobase transporters and nucleobase salvage in P. aeruginosa using genetic and biochemical techniques. I hypothesize that salvage of nucleobase-related compounds may impact intracellular nucleotide pools, which may in turn alter bacterial behavior.

What attracted you to your program?

My then-girlfriend (now recently-married-wife) matriculated into a physics graduate program in Chicago, so I strongly preferred a program also in the Chicago area. Although I found myself interested in several Chicago-based biology programs, what stood out to me about Northwestern and the DGP is how collaborative the environment felt — not just within departments but also between departments.

I preferred to join an umbrella program like the DGP because of broader rotation options and having a core set of classes, which fosters connections between students — so now I am friends and acquaintances with other graduate students across many of the departments at Feinberg and can draw on their expertise.

What has been your best experience at Feinberg?

The Prindle laboratory started up only a few years ago, so one of my best experiences has been watching and helping shape the laboratory as it grows. I really appreciate the laboratory culture. Everyone’s just so friendly and supportive!

Before the pandemic we would go out together for meals, have dinner parties, play board games — we even went rock climbing and bouldering together a couple of times!

How would you describe the faculty at Feinberg?

Faculty at Feinberg are intellectually curious, driven individuals. They are passionate about their field of expertise and about science in general. I have also found faculty here to be supportive and willing to take the time to personally help you even if they may not know you particularly well, which is a great boon for graduate students.

What do you do in your free time?

In my free time, I enjoy cooking and baking for and with my wife. We picked up rock climbing and bouldering as a hobby in 2019 and grew to look forward to climbing a couple times every month. Problem solving, technique, and strength are all crucial for success and I’ve found the clear progression in climbing ability really satisfying.

We are also active in the Chicago Greek Orthodox community. In addition to other church ministries, we are docents for the Chicago Architectural Foundation at our parish (St. Basil) and we volunteer at an annual Greek food fest in Niles.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I plan to continue conducting scientific research after graduating. I will likely aim for a postdoctoral position in another academic microbiology lab in the Chicago area but I am also open to and interested in exploring industry positions.