Meet the Postdocs – Dolly Al Koborssy

Dolly Al Koborssy, PhD, received her doctorate in neuroscience from Florida State University. She currently works in the laboratory of Johannes Reisert, PhD, using single-cell electrophysiology on olfactory receptor neurons to understand the olfactory response to different odorants and mechanisms underlying olfactory adaptation.

Dolly Al Koborssy

Dolly Al Koborssy, PhD

Q. AChemS week is over? Well, congratulations! How did your presentation go?
I think it went very well. I had so many people stop to check out my poster, and I ended up engaging in plenty of discussions about the nitty gritty of my research. And obviously, had to answer lots of “why did you do this research?”

Q. I assume you wouldn’t mind answering that question one more time?
Of course not! My research addresses the question whether there is correlation between increased fat in one’s diet and impaired olfactory functioning. It is not the only study out there trying to answer that question, but other studies really lack a comprehensive, controlled experimental design.

Q. So what you are trying to do is build upon previous research that attempted to answer the same question?
Not exactly. Previous research on fats and olfaction is not robust enough to be the base that I would build upon. What I am actually trying to do is create that base from which future research can move forward.

Q. Truly impressive! And how do you see yourself moving forward with this project?
Well, let me tell you a little bit about the olfactory epithelium before I can answer this question. It is the very first component of the process that allows us to perceive smell. The olfactory epithelium traps odorants that come into the nasal cavity, triggering signals that start olfactory processing. If something disrupts the function of the olfactory epithelium, it compromises everything else that follows, leading to impaired olfactory processing. Accordingly, my next step is to tackle the question whether, due to increased fat content in diets, the olfactory epithelium is experiencing cell death which would prevent it from capturing odorants from the air. If that is true, then we will be able to explain not only what increased fat content does to olfaction but also how it does it!

Q. I really enjoyed how you explained this process; do you often get to talk about your research with an audience that is not familiar with how olfaction works?
Oh yes, I do. My husband is not a science person, and sometimes I need to complain about my work, which means I also have to explain it.

Q. How engaging do these conversations get, especially when they’re with someone who is “not a science person?”
Research on connections between olfaction and our diets is easily relatable to our day to day lives, starting with our own food experiences to those of our pets! However, one issue that matters most to me while engaging audiences from both scientific and nonscientific backgrounds is obesity. Only a couple of years ago, obesity was classified as a disease. If you are obese, your physiology is fighting against you. Asking someone to “just lose weight” is like telling someone who is injured, “just stop bleeding!” I hope my work helps educate people more about issues like this so that one day body shaming is no longer a problem.

Q. It is amazing to be talking to a scientist, like you, who is aware of the potential impacts of their research outside of STEM. How is this manifested in your experience as a Monellian?
I am very happy, at Monell, to be able to contribute to an initiative like the Diversity Journal Club, which by the way was started by a postdoc! It is a chance for us to take our appreciation of diversity a step further. We come from a wide variety of backgrounds. But being a diverse institution is one thing and making people feel seen and included is something else. And I think the Diversity Journal Club is a step in the right direction.

Q. What do you recommend to someone who is reading this conversation so they also can take a step in the direction of inclusion?
I really want to advertise a book club within the Association for Women in Science. Our next meeting is coming up soon, and we are going to discuss Stacey Abrams’ book, Leading from the Outside. I still have not finished the book, but it is definitely my type. It is straight to the point and is very relevant to everyone trying to take charge of their life, which means a lot to me and to women in science.

Q. What a great advertisement and book recommendation! With that said, do you have any final words for us?
Just that science is great. I know there is some mistrust building up. But I just want people to know that science is messy. And it looks even messier to lay people when they are following it day by day, right? You can see this in people’s reactions to daily news about vaccines, potential side effects, and the ever-changing COVID regulations. People have been looking at what scientists are doing day by day, and a lot of them do not realize that it is not a straight line. There are failures and lots of trial and error. And I wish people would be kinder towards us because we are really trying our best.