September 15, 2022

Welcome, Dr. Sara Zaccara

The Department of Systems Biology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center welcomes new faculty member Sara Zaccara, PhD. Dr. Zaccara joins Columbia as an assistant professor, effective Sept. 1. Prior to coming to Columbia, she was a postdoctoral researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Dr. Zaccara grew up in a small town in Italy. She received her PhD from the University of Trento, in Trento, Italy, where her thesis work was on p53-dependent translational regulation. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biotechnology from the University of Florence. “I studied biotechnology,” she says, “because I was fascinated by the idea of developing new methods that could improve our future in medicine.”

Dr. Zaccara’s research focuses on the intricate cellular mechanisms that control the chemical tag called m6A, which cells insert into almost 30 percent of their mRNA molecules. She has proposed a unified model of how m6A mRNAs are controlled in cells. She also helped show why the number of m6A sites in mRNAs has functional consequences for mRNA fate.

Currently, Dr. Zaccara’s group is working on characterizing the mechanisms that trigger m6A mRNA degradation in normal and disease states, in particular, acute myeloid leukemia. The group is also investigating the impact of the functional specialization of RNA binding proteins on mRNA fate. Their multidisciplinary approach includes the use of CRISPR-Cas9 base editor screens, massively parallel tethering screens, molecular tagging, imaging, and in vitro experiments. The integrated combination of these methodologies will enable investigation of critical components of the mRNA degradation pathway and their contribution to mRNA fate with unprecedented throughput and resolution.

“I strongly believe that new ideas and discoveries arise when a diverse group of scientists share and discuss their opinions and ideas,” says Dr. Zaccara. “Columbia University and the Department of Systems Biology provide an incredibly diverse environment that fosters collaboration, brainstorming, and interdisciplinary cross-fertilization of ideas. I’m excited to be a member of this wonderful community, and I look forward to taking an active role in promoting its growth.”