Postdoctoral Alumni - Norman Pavelka
Norman Pavelka’s trajectory was set when, as a graduate student at the University of Milano-Bicocca, he characterized the transcriptome of pathogen-infected immune cells. “After that I wanted to stay at the forefront of technology,” says Pavelka, who earned his Ph.D. in 2006 from the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”. “I was into everything ‘-omics.’”
Eager also for a change of scene, the Milan native looked for postdoc opportunities at a US venue supportive of genomics and proteomics approaches. He hadn’t heard much about the Stowers Institute, but his companion, biologist Giulia Rancati, had a postdoc interview with Stowers Investigator Rong Li—then at Harvard-—who invited them both for a visit.
Pavelka tried to find “Stowers” on a Boston map, thinking it was next door to Harvard or MIT. “Google Maps kept bringing us back to the middle of the country,” he says. “We thought there must be an error.”
Once they realized there wasn’t, the pair relegated Stowers to “courtesy call” status on their interview trip to tech meccas like Boston and San Diego. “Everybody said we had to go to the east or west coast,” Pavelka said. “But after seeing the Stowers facilities and meeting people so enthusiastic about their work, we knew this was our dream place.” Soon after, Rancati and Pavelka joined the Li lab.
His first task was to set up a risky experiment designed to assess whether yeast would adapt to loss of a gene considered essential for cell division. “Rong said let’s do a crazy evolution experiment, and then you can apply your fancy -omics approaches to figure out how cells manage to survive,” says Pavelka.
In short, the work led first to a 2008 Cell paper showing that mutant yeast adapt through the normally disastrous strategy of acquiring too many chromosomes, and then a 2010 Nature study cataloguing all the “fancy” proteomic changes accompanying that survival. In those efforts Pavelka frequently worked with Stowers proteomics director Michael Washburn, with whom he collaborated on a highly cited 2008 Molecular & Cellular Proteomics paper reporting a novel way to quantitate proteomics data.
His greatest praise is for Li, who he thanks for inspiring his creativity. “Rong has the vision and imagination to come up with really unconventional ideas,” he says.
In 2011 Pavelka became a Principal Investigator with the Singapore Immunology Network of A*STAR. He continues to analyze genomic changes driving evolutionary processes in pathogenic yeast, and in 2010 was awarded one of three prestigious A*STAR Investigatorships. Pavelka says the $1.5 million grant is a credit to the success of his training, saying, “That award shows you how much Stowers did for my career.”