Behind the Science: Brad Hammerson

“Behind the Science” tells the stories of the people – in both administration and the labs – who help make CID Research an interesting place. It’s an opportunity to learn about each individual’s journey that led them to CID Research and how they have a meaningful impact in the fight against infectious disease.

Brad Hammerson

Name and Title:

Brad Hammerson, Research Associate, Myler Lab

What do you do at CID Research?

I’m in the Myler Lab which has two parts, the Leishmania research part and the Seattle Structural Genomics Center for Infectious Disease (SSGCID), which solves protein structures related to infectious diseases that are important to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – like TB, Malaria, or various drug resistant bacteria. I work with SSGCID and one of my primary roles is to help get the proteins we are working on into crystallography trials by expressing and purifying proteins. For protein targets that are especially hard to purify, we do more research and troubleshooting into how we can work with them so that they’re able to be expressed and purified, then go on to crystallography. We set up some crystallography trials ourselves here too.

What is a crystallography trial?

That’s when you take a protein and you dissolve it in different chemical solutions with the goal of growing ordered crystal lattices, which are the arrangements of atoms in a crystal. Once you find a solution that allows for a crystal to grow, then that crystal can be “shot” with x-rays to determine the structure of the protein. Our main goal is to generate these protein crystals, bombard them with x-rays, collect the diffraction pattern, and then solve the structures from that diffraction pattern. All the cloning, purifying, and work that go ahead of it are basically to generate material to do these crystal trial experiments. [Read more in this blog post about SSGCID’s work]

What's your impact on the Center? How does your role fit in?

I guess it’s kind of a weird thing because in some ways it doesn’t fit with anybody else – at least, not always. It could just so happen that all the targets that I work on have nothing to do with anybody’s work here, but it could also be they do have to do with other peoples’ work here. For certain projects we’ll collaborate with labs that are working on protein complexes or other hard to work with proteins. A good example is that there’s a protein complex from T. brucei that the Stuart Lab is interested in, and I’m learning how to grow the cells and how to purify the protein complex from them to see what we can do about solving the structure of them. Generally, anybody here at the center or actually anyone around the world can contact SSGCID and nominate a protein that they’re interested in to have the structure solved and at that point, we’ll interact with it.

Also, since protein expression and purification is our main focus, we are occasionally able to be a resource for other labs by lending them reagents, or offering advice on cloning, expression or purification strategies.

How did you get into this career?

I majored in microbiology at Santa Barbara, and I’ve either worked in microbiology or biochemistry since. I started working in a yeast lab right out of undergrad. I’m a homebrewer and I’ve been brewing for 10 or 12 years, since I was in college actually. After I graduated I called up the San Diego company who makes the yeast I use and asked if they happened to need someone with a recent microbiology degree. They were looking to hire two technicians at the time, and I happened to be going on a trip back for a visit anyway, so I was able to go and meet with them. It was good timing, and I ended up working there for about a year, culturing yeast, packaging it aseptically, and occasionally fermenting small test batches of beer with different yeasts to see how they would work out. We would also get beer samples from breweries and test them for contamination or different microorganisms or even different flavor compounds. It was a cool job.

Has it ever been your goal to wear a brewery t-shirt every day?

No, it just happens. It’s what I’ve got and I’m a very functional person. However, you could say that visiting all the breweries in Seattle is a goal over time.

What would you wait in line for?

I’d definitely wait in line for Tom Petty or Eric Clapton concert tickets. I’d also happily wait in line for a chance to eat at the French Laundry. Or to tour a Lambic Brewery in Belgium.