Postdoc Spotlight: From Structural Biology to Mitochondrial Mysteries - Dr. Koning Shen’s Journey into the Core of Cellular Activities

January 15, 2024

Dr. Koning Shen posing in front of door and flower treeAfter studying structural biology in her undergrad and Ph.D., Dr. Koning Shen is using her time as a postdoctoral scholar at Berkeley to study the health of mitochondria and its link to diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

“I’ve always been very interested in the mechanisms for what makes biology work, what makes our bodies work, what happens to our bodies when they fail,” Koning said.

Mitochondria, also known as the powerhouse of the cell, are central to various cellular activities in the human body. Through her research, Koning is trying to understand how the aging of the mitochondria leads to neurodegenerative diseases that are much more prone in older people, such as type two diabetes. She is also investigating the role of mitochondria’s health in these diseases and problems that are intensified with aging, such as infertility, Alzheimer's, and strokes to name a few.

When asked about the biggest challenge she has faced as a researcher so far, Koning recounts a moment that reflects a struggle scientists often face – the clash between creativity and the rigid realities dictated by nature.

Koning recalls a project that initially seemed straightforward – a clear path leading to a quick paper. However, the results, contrary to expectations, took a different turn, challenging the preconceived hypotheses. At the moment of this realization, she immediately called her partner in a profound sense of disappointment.

“I think that’s the hard part about being scientists, you’re asked to have all this creativity and told the world is your oyster. But at the end of the day, we’re not like entrepreneurs, we’re not creating things, we’re discovering what already exists, Koning said.

Eventually, she recognized the potential for a new perspective and decided to pivot her research direction. This shift not only led Koning to a different way of thinking about the subject but also uncovered unexplored avenues that had previously been overlooked.

“And nature has already decided for things to be a certain way,” she added. 

For the time to come, Koning is looking forward to expanding her postdoctoral research in her future lab as she is now in the faculty job market!