Postdoctoral Alumni - Giulia Rancati


Giulia Rancati
Institute of Medical Biology
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore

When Giulia Rancati finished her Ph.D. in 2005 at the University of Milano-Bicocca, she wanted an international experience and exposure to cutting edge technology. After declining invitations to join labs in scientific hot spots like California and Washington State, she chose to postdoc with Stowers’ Rong Li, who Rancati calls “a volcano of ideas.”

“When I told Italian friends I was moving to Kansas City, they were shocked,” she says. “They thought I was insane to turn down other offers and moving to the Midwest. But I don’t regret that.”

Rancati is unbridled in admiration for Li’s energy for science. “Rong not only wants to do cutting-edge, ambitious science,” says Rancati, noting that she immediately wanted to join Li’s lab. “But she always made me think about the big picture.”

As a Stowers postdoc between 2006 and 2011, Rancati studied how cells survive harsh environments by developing an abnormal number of chromosomes, a mechanism called aneuploidy. “People associate aneuploidy with bad outcomes,” she says, citing its correlation in humans with cancer and birth defects, “But aneuploidy can be beneficial in certain circumstances in a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sense.”

In the Li lab Rancati used budding yeast to show that possession of abnormal numbers of chromosomes conferred a survival advantage to cells grown under stressful conditions, studies published in 2008 and 2010 Cell and Nature papers respectively.

Then in 2011, Rancati made another international leap to become the equivalent of assistant professor at the Institute of Medical Biology (IMB) at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore. She launched her career by winning one of three highly competitive $1.5 million A*STAR Investigatorships awarded in 2010. Rancati still works in yeast but is now also exploring the genetic changes used by cancer cells to become resistant to chemotherapy, with a goal of circumventing them.

Although Rancati loves Singapore, she misses the Midwest and Kansas City. “When I moved to Kansas City it was tough at first,” says Rancati, who was raised in Milan. “But people there were nice and cheerful every time you met them! Plus I could afford my own apartment and live a normal life.”

But she is most grateful to Stowers and Rong for teaching her to think outside the box. “After my postdoc with Rong, I could never go back and do 'conventional' science,” says Rancati. “Whenever I talked to her I thought everything was possible.”