Student Research Spotlight – Fabrizio Chow

Photo source: Fabrizio Chow

Hello! My name is Fabrizio Chow (he/him) and I am currently in my 5th year of my Chemical Biology degree here at UBC. I am originally from Chilliwack, in the Lower Mainland, so I’ve grown up near Vancouver. Currently, I am fortunate enough to do research in the Samuels Lab, where we focus on plant cell biology. Previously, I was a senior residence advisor with Student Housing at UBC, and a Co-op student, where I worked as a quality control chemist at Viva Pharmaceuticals. I now work with Plant Care Services as a greenhouse assistant.

What are you researching in the Samuels Lab?

Lignin is an important component of cell walls that makes up approximately 15-30% of the secondary cell wall in plants. It is essential for strength of the cell wall and water transport, amongst many other important benefits. The building blocks of lignin are called monolignols, which travel from the cytosol into the secondary cell wall and are converted to lignin by oxidative enzymes, known as laccases and peroxidases. However, despite these enzymes being responsible for controlling spatial distribution of lignin, the specific location of these oxidative enzymes remains unknown. Hence, my research focuses on localizing where one of these enzymes, called LACCASE11, is found in the plant cell.

Why is this research important?

Lignin is an important organic molecule for plants due to its many biological functions, and it is also one of the most abundant molecules on the planet. Despite this abundance, many things about how lignin is formed and deposited remain unknown. Moreover, due to lignin’s properties, it is difficult to break down and consequently makes conversion of plant biomass for renewable energy more difficult. Currently, the use of lignin outside of plants is limited, despite it being a strong potential candidate for renewable energy production. My research aims to contribute to the current literature of how lignin is produced and deposited to help create a better understanding behind the machinery and mechanisms of plant species. The better we understand lignin, the more likely we can benefit from its properties.

What do you most enjoy about doing research?

I just think plants are so cool. There seems to be a general consensus amongst individuals that plants are boring, immobile objects. However, to me, it is the fact that they’re sessile in nature that makes them so interesting. Plants, at the microscopic and macroscopic level, have evolved and created phenomenal biochemical and mechanical machinery to help them not only survive but thrive in all corners of the world.

What has been most challenging about doing research?

What I find challenging is how interwoven research is. Cell biology, genetics, analytical chemistry, mathematics, and organic chemistry are all fields that I have come across whilst conducting my research. I find that this adds another layer of complexity to research, as I frequently have to brush up on old skills or learn completely new topics.

How has your unique background influenced your research experience?

Since last year, I have been working at the greenhouse (the one beside Orchard Commons) as a greenhouse assistant, where we take care of various exotic plant species and plants from various research labs. During this time, I have come to appreciate how diverse and beautiful plants are. Coming to university, I never planned to pursue botany, nor did I even take much interest in plants, but during my time at the greenhouse and through talking with my peers and educators, I have become completely in awe of plants.

What has doing research brought to your undergraduate experience?

Research has allowed me to strengthen my conceptual understanding of material that I have learned throughout my undergraduate degree and has sparked a sense of intellectual curiosity about science and the world around us.

What advice would you give to other students considering doing a research project?

Always create a schedule. This will help you plan out your research, and when the semester gets busier, it helps you ensure your research goals are met in an orderly and timely manner.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

In my spare time I enjoy swimming, hiking, going to the gym, and anything that involves the outdoors. Despite the intensity associated with academic studies, to me, any sort of physical activity has become the winds behind my sail and has allowed me to clear my head and give me breaks throughout the week.

What is a fun fact about you that people may not know?

A fun fact about me is that I am not a morning person, it takes me multiple alarms to wake up in the morning. Sometimes I set up alarms on separate devices to ensure I don’t sleep in.

What are your plans following graduation?

The world is so big and the possibilities are endless, but I hope to continue my studies in botany and pursue postgraduate studies.

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