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Rhys Pryce, DPhil student in Cellular Structural BiologyRHYS PRYCE (2014 - Present)

Rhys Pryce grew up in mid-Wales and did his undergraduate degree at Bath University where he started out studying Architecture before switching to Biochemistry. Despite apparent differences between the subjects, there are clearly links that make sense: architects structure space, whereas biochemists explore the structure that space has developed via natural selection. No surprise, then, that Rhys is a member of the Wellcome Trust Cellular Structural Biology DPhil programme, supervised by Thomas Bowden and Juha Huiskonen.

Rhys’s work focuses on arenaviruses such as Lassa virus, using structural analysis of their glycoproteins to understand their mechanisms of infection – and hopefully a basis for vaccine development. Rhys is focused on a difficult protein target for structure determination – for example, it has 9 transmembrane α-helices and 33 sugar sidechains – but is making good progress, using crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy in combination. The biggest challenge though is going to be understanding the way in which the proteins are arranged in the virus itself – because it is very polymorphic in structure. Among the other techniques he uses, Rhys is taking an unusual approach to mapping protein arrangements in arenaviruses, by looking at the ways in which X-rays damage his samples, which he can map using mass spectrometry. If he sees damage, he’s identified a region that’s exposed in the assembled structure, and if he doesn’t it’s buried within it.

Rhys was especially attracted by the Wellcome programme he joined – with rotations to inform his final choice of project, and exploring different fields with common techniques or getting training in new approaches. It’s also been very good to benefit from the infrastructure in Oxford. He’s a member of New College which has been a very positive experience – giving contact with interesting people outside the lab – and after a year living in college accommodation now lives out though still in central Oxford, near the river Thames.

Flexibility is a necessary thing in research work and also a big plus, but a normal working day for Rhys starts around 10am and runs on to 6 or 7pm. As well as his research Rhys has also enjoyed doing Biological Chemistry classes with Biochemistry degree students at the university. This has been challenging but a great experience – like the DPhil itself, it develops transferable skills and strengthens Rhys’s day-to-day independence.

Outside of science, Rhys still finds ways to explore some of the interests that attracted him to Architecture: he’s currently learning pottery at the local HE college, is a keen photographer and particularly enjoys printmaking. The reproducibility of the printmaker’s art is very pleasing – and links back to the crystallographic work that helped draw him into the structural biology programme in the first place.