Molecular & Cellular Biology

Revealing the secrets of nature & educating next generation of science innovators

Meet Ross Buchan, MCB's Newest Assistant Professor

Meet Ross Buchan, MCB's Newest Assistant Professor

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dr. Ross Buchan sees himself as “a pretty decent guy” like his favorite character from Game of Thrones, Tyrion, though “a bit taller.”  Ross is very much Scottish and his last name is accordingly pronounced buck-in – with a phlegmy Scottish-sounding ch if you dare risk it (though he loves the pleasant French boo-shan that people have been using until now).  He grew up in rural Northeast Scotland where he “spent [his] days exploring, looking at animals, running through forests, and reading… lots of reading.”  One of his favorite activities – which is where his first love of science began – was “stealing [his] grandmother’s encyclopedias” and copying out sections on exciting topics like astronauts and dinosaurs.

Ross’ favorite molecule is RNA – not only because it has been the focus of his research since his PhD – but also because he believes it “may be the precursor that lead to life as we know it on this planet,” and RNA is a “jack-of-all-trades molecule” performing both information carrying and catalytic functions.  At the University of Aberdeen – where he received both his undergraduate degree and PhD – Ross studied how ribosomes translate mRNA with Ian Stansfield.  He then met former MCB professor Roy Parker (a scientist he greatly admires, along with Francis Crick) and started working on what mRNA’s do when they aren’t in translation (hint: they form stress granules).  With Roy he discovered that stress granules do exist in yeast and they can be cleared by a process called autophagy, the stress response that degrades and reuses cell components.  This informs his current research on how stress granules are recognized and targeted by autophagy machinery and the consequences for gene expression, defects in which may lead to neurodegenerative diseases like ALS or dementia. 

Ross is #teamyeast, and although he “also moonlights with mammalian cells,” he is a firm believer in “the awesome power of yeast genetics.”  He also thoroughly enjoys the yeast product beer – particularly IPA’s – and hopes to take up home brewing soon (prospective students take note: he is particularly fond of the IPA from Avery Brewing Company in Boulder, CO).   Ross admitted to me that he is “a bit of a musician” proficient in cello and bass guitar, and has been in many kinds of bands including Scottish folk, rock/pop and collaborations with other musical scientists.  He is open to new collaborations in Tucson, though draws the line at playing dubstep.  He hopes that the MCB department might start doing a “cookie hour” or some other “forced socializing” because “the more you can surround yourself and interact with smart people with good ideas, the better.”

Interested in joining Ross’s lab?  He is willing to offer perks that may not be available in other labs, like purchasing your favorite gloves (be they aloe scented or a particular color) or more interaction than you may receive from other PIs since he is just starting his lab and is often around doing experiments.   The most important goal for Ross is to make sure his students “end up having a good experience and having options that give them various directions that they can go forward with in their career, [doing his] best that they have a fulfilling and educational experience.”  That said, he is not opposed to bribes as a way of sweetening the deal.  Plus, Ross’ lab has a great view – arguably “the best view” – of the Catalina mountains, offering “a pleasing lab environment, if nothing else.”

I asked Ross what he would like to say to himself if 50 years from now he stumbled upon this article, and this is what he had to say:  “Right now I would be happy if I could say to myself in 50 years time, See all the worrying was for nothing, because right now I’m finding that the transition from post-doc to PI involves a lot more people and responsibilities competing for your time, and less time to actually do your own experiments or focus on things that you might think push your research forward.  So there is a new set of skills that I am working on right now.  But hopefully, I might also say, Wasn’t that a great ride, because I really do think that it’s a fantastic job to have, there aren’t many jobs where you can pursue what you find interesting for the sake of your own intellectual curiosity. “

by Teal Brechtel (tealbrechtel@email.arizona.edu)