Jessica K. Polka

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Present title and affiliations:
Director, ASAPbio
Departent of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, UCSF

Visiting Scholar
Whitehead Institute

Visiting Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Department of Systems Biology, HMS
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard
Advisor: Pamela Silver



  • Research Fellow, Harvard Medical School. 01/2013 – present, Advisor: Pamela Silver
  • Junior specialist, UCSF. 09/2012 – 12/2012, Advisor: R. Dyche Mullins
  • PhD, Tetrad program (Biochemistry focus), UCSF. 09/2007 – 09/2012, Advisor: R. Dyche Mullins
  • BS, Biology, UNC-CH. 08/2003 – 05/2007

HONORS (Research)

HONORS (Other)

PAPERS (Research)

  1. Myhrvold CA*, Polka JK*, Silver PA. Synthetic lipid-containing scaffolds enhance production by co-localizing enzymes. BioRxiv. 2016 May 5. doi: (PREPRINT) * equal contribution
  2. Polka JK, Hays SG, Silver PA. Building Spatial Synthetic Biology with Compartments, Scaffolds, and Communities. Chapter in Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives: Synthetic Biology. June 7, 2016, doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a024018 PMID:27270297. Download PDF of author’s last version
  3. Polka JK, Silver PA. A tunable protein piston that breaks membranes to release encapsulated cargo. ACS Synth Biol. 2016 Jan 26. doi: 10.1021/acssynbio.5b00237 PubMed PMID: 26814170. Download PDF
    1. Article in The Atlantic by Ed Yong: Biologists Steal Nanospear Technology From Bacteria.
    2. Video by Headline Science (American Chemical Society): Punchy proteins could help advance drug delivery, MEMS devices.
    3. Press releases: Harvard Medical School/Wyss InstituteAmerican Chemical Society
  4. Polka JK, Silver PA. Induced sensitivity of Bacillus subtilis colony morphology to mechanical media compression. PeerJ. 2014 Sep 30;2:e597. doi: 10.7717/peerj.597. eCollection 2014. PubMed PMID: 25289183; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4183962.
  5. Polka JK, Kollman JM, Mullins RD. Accessory factors promote AlfA-dependent plasmid segregation by regulating filament nucleation, disassembly, and bundling. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Feb 11;111(6):2176-81. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1304127111. Epub 2014 Jan 30. PubMed PMID: 24481252; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3926056.
    1. This work was highlighted in F1000
  6. Polka JK, Silver PA. Building synthetic cellular organization. Mol Biol Cell. 2013 Dec;24(23):3585-7. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E13-03-0155. PubMed PMID: 24288075; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3842987. (Review)
  7. Chen AH, Robinson-Mosher A, Savage DF, Silver PA, Polka JK. The bacterial carbon-fixing organelle is formed by shell envelopment of preassembled cargo. PLoS One. 2013 Sep 4;8(9):e76127. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0076127. eCollection 2013. PubMed PMID: 24023971; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3762834.
  8. Rivera CR, Kollman JM, Polka JK, Agard DA, Mullins RD. Architecture and assembly of a divergent member of the ParM family of bacterial actin-like proteins. J Biol Chem. 2011 Apr 22;286(16):14282-90. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.203828. Epub 2011 Feb 21. PubMed PMID: 21339292; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3077629.
  9. Kollman JM, Polka JK, Zelter A, Davis TN, Agard DA. Microtubule nucleating gamma-TuSC assembles structures with 13-fold microtubule-like symmetry. Nature. 2010 Aug 12;466(7308):879-82. doi: 10.1038/nature09207. Epub 2010 Jul 14. PubMed PMID: 20631709; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2921000.
  10. Polka JK, Kollman JM, Agard DA, Mullins RD. The structure and assembly dynamics of plasmid actin AlfA imply a novel mechanism of DNA segregation. J Bacteriol. 2009 Oct;191(20):6219-30. doi: 10.1128/JB.00676-09. Epub 2009 Aug 7. PubMed PMID: 19666709; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2753045.
  11. Ciferri C, Pasqualato S, Screpanti E, Varetti G, Santaguida S, Dos Reis G, Maiolica A, Polka J, De Luca JG, De Wulf P, Salek M, Rappsilber J, Moores CA, Salmon ED, Musacchio A. Implications for kinetochore-microtubule attachment from the structure of an engineered Ndc80 complex. Cell. 2008 May 2;133(3):427-39. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2008.03.020. PubMed PMID: 18455984.

PAPERS (Other)

  1. Callier V, Polka J. Fellowships are the Future. Nature 528:155-156 (02 December 2015) doi:10.1038/nj7580-155a
  2. Polka JK, Krukenberg KA, McDowell GS. A call for transparency in tracking graduate student and postdoc career outcomes. Mol Biol Cell. 2015 Apr 15. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E14-10-1432
  3. Polka JK, Krukenberg KA. Making science a desirable career. Science. 2014 Dec 12;346(6215):1422. doi: 10.1126/science.346.6215.1422. PubMed PMID: 25504725.
  4. McDowell GS, Gunsalus KTW, MacKellar DC, Mazzilli SA, Pai VP, Goodwin PR, Walsh EM, Robinson-Mosher A, Bowman TA, Kraemer J, Erb ML, Shoenfeld E, Shokri L, Jackson JD, Islam A, Mattozzi MD, Krukenberg KA, Polka JK. Shaping the Future of Research: a perspective from junior scientists [v2; ref status: indexed,] F1000Research 2015, 3:291 (doi:10.12688/f1000research.5878.2)
  5. Polka J. (2014) Column: A wake-up call. Nature 511: 256–256. doi:10.1038/nj7508-256a.

TALKS (Research)

  • Synthetic Biology: Engineering, Evolution, and Design, Student and Postdoc Session, (R bodies). July 19, 2016. Chicago, IL
  • Protein Society 30th Anniversary Symposium, Proteins on the Move, (R bodies). July 17, 2016. Baltimore, MD
  • ASM Annual Meeting, Bacterial Motility, (R bodies). June 19, 2016. Boston, MA
  • ASCB Annual Meeting, Microbial Motility Minisymposium, (R bodies) December 15, 2015. San Diego, CA
  • Synberc Retreat, (R bodies) September 20, 2015. MIT.
  • Boston Bacterial Meeting, (Carboxysomes) June 13, 2014. Cambridge, MA.
  • 2nd Zing Bacterial Cell Biology Conference, (Carboxysomes) December 10, 2013. Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
  • ASM Annual Meeting, Young Investigator Oral Presentation: Organizing, Replicating and Segregating the Genome, (AlfA) May 21, 2013. Denver, CO.
  • ASCB Annual Meeting, Prokaryotic Cell Biology Minisymposium, (AlfA) December 19, 2012.
  • Bauer Forum, (AlfA) November 16, 2011. Harvard.
  • Frontiers in Quantitative Biology Seminar, (AlfA) March 3, 2011. Stanford.

TALKS (Other)


  • Rescuing Biomedical Research
    • Steering Committee Member, 2015-present
  • Accelerating Science and Publication in Biology (ASAPbio)
    • Co-organizer, 2015-2016
  • Future of Research
    • Co-organizer of inaugural meeting (Boston, 2014)
    • Executive Committee Member, 2014-2016
    • President of the Board of Directors, 2016-present
  • American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB)
    • Member, 2006-present
    • ASCB committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS)
      • Co-chair, 2013-2014
      • Member, 2013-2016
  • American Society of Microbiology (ASM)
    • Member, 2012-2013


  • Microbial Diversity Course, Microscopy TA, 2016, Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole, MA)
  • Physiology Course, TA, 2010-2011 & 2015, Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole, MA)
  • Cell Biology, TA, 2008, UCSF Tetrad Graduate Program
  • Biochemistry Boot Camp, TA, 2008-2009, UCSF Biophysics Graduate Program
  • SEP program, Participant, 2009, UCSF
  • Biology of Blood Diseases, Course Assistant, 2009, UNC-CH Department of Biology
  • Summerbridge program, Teacher, 2004, Hong Kong SAR
  • Inspire Program, Tutor, 2004, UNC-CH

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