Inside AFAR
Inside AFAR

Insights, Views, and Interviews

Dec 29
3:46 pm

Grantee Spotlight Interview: Brian Zid, PhD View MoreBACK

AFAR’s grant programs in the biology of aging are central to our mission to support and advance healthy aging through biomedical research. At leading institutions nationwide, our grantees hard work, ingenuity, and leadership are advancing cutting-edge research that will help us all live healthier, longer. AFAR grantees are making this the age of aging better.

In this Grantee Spotlight interview, Brian Zid, PhD, shares what inspired him to enter the field of aging research and what impact he hopes his research will make thanks to AFAR’s support.


Brian Zid, PhD

Assistant Professor,
University of California, San Diego

2016 AFAR Research Grant for Junior Faculty

What inspired you to get into aging research?
I became interested in aging in High School when I first learned how complicated developmental biology was; that we can develop from a single sperm and egg into a super complex human with trillions of neural connections. Logically it seemed much simpler for an organism to maintain itself once it reaches adulthood than to develop into an adult organism, but the opposite seems to be true as almost all organisms deteriorate and age with time. I continued to be interested in aging during college and I was lucky enough to be able to pursue aging research while in the lab of Seymour Benzer during graduate school.


In your view, what does AFAR mean to the field, and what does it mean, for you, to receive an AFAR grant now?
I have found it very beneficial that AFAR supports all levels of research, including very basic aging research. While a graduate student in the Benzer lab we were searching for new lifespan pathways using fruit flies. We found that downregulation of the target of rapamycin (TOR) pathway was a novel pathway that extended the lifespan of the fly. Other labs have since shown that this is a conserved lifespan pathway and that administration of rapamycin, which inhibits the TOR pathway can even extend the lifespan of mammals. AFAR’s support allows me to continue to carry out very basic research, for which there will hopefully be a much broader impact on our understanding on aging in the long term.

What’s exciting about your research’s potential impact?
While there has been a lot of interest recently in protein aggregation during aging, it is unclear how these aggregates directly affect the cell. By using the simple model organism, S. cerevisiae, this research aims to establish a quantitative measure of the role protein aggregation has on the cell by focusing on aggregation-prone RNA-binding proteins and the subsequent effects these proteins have on gene expression. Our hypothesis is that mislocalization of protein and RNA components within a cell constitutes an important mode of homeostasis loss that occurs in aged cells. Many of these RNA-binding proteins have been found to have strong links to neurodegenerative diseases in humans; therefore, this basic mechanistic research in yeast may give insight into how protein aggregation affects cellular physiology during aging in higher eukaryotes.

In three sentences, how would you describe your research to one of your grandparents?
During aging many proteins become jumbled together, this may be important for a number of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Lou Gehrig’s disease. I am trying to understand why proteins become jumbled together during aging and how this is detrimental to cells.