May 10, 2010
WOOSTER, Ohio - College of Wooster students made quite an impression at the 14th annual ASBMB (American Society of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology) National Meeting and Undergraduate Poster
Competition, which was held last month in Anaheim, Ca. Seven students represented Wooster among the 200 undergraduates in the competition, and two of those students - Brad Palanski and Ginny Kincaid - received honorable mention citations, which placed them in the top 10 percent of student research presentations at the meeting.
"Students gave 10-15_minute poster presentations about their research project and were judged by a panel of three scientists with expertise in the discipline," said Mark Snider, associate professor of chemistry and chair of the biochemistry & molecular biology program at Wooster. "After each presentation, the judge would ask questions to assess the depth of the student's understanding of the research, methods, implications of results, and future directions of the research. We are pleased with the seven students who represented Wooster at the conference. Having two of them receive recognition at the national level for their research is quite an accomplishment and speaks highly of our students and our program."
Palanski, a junior biochemistry and molecular biology major from Sharon, Pa., presented his sophomore research project: "Guilt by association: Functional annotation of TM0486 from Thermotoga
maritima by identification of its bound ligands." His study successfully determined the function of a protein from the bacterium Thermotoga maritima using mass spectrometry to identify the small organic molecules (ligands) with which the protein is associated.
"Having the opportunity to see scientists at the cutting edge of their field give presentations was inspiring, especially because I was already familiar with their work through my classes and research," said Palanski. "Also, the chance to present my own research to professors, professionals, and other students allowed me to receive valuable feedback and constructive criticism, which will strengthen the quality of my research."
Kincaid, a senior chemistry major from Indianapolis, presented "Kinetic studies of the hydrolytic deamidase NicF." Her Senior Independent Study project focused on the involvement of
the enzyme NicF in the breakdown of nicotinic acid (vitamin B) in Bordetella bronchiseptica (Bb), a causative agent of respiratory infection.
"I had an awesome experience at the national meeting," said Kincaid. "Not only did I meet some great people, but I was also challenged to think more critically about my research and future plans."
Also representing Wooster at the conference were Chelsea Stamm, Chantal Koechli, Allyson Palmer, Haley Brown, and Roger Klein, as well as faculty members Dean Fraga and James West.
Stamm, a junior biochemistry and molecular biology major from Louisville, Ohio, discussed "Monitoring cadmium binding to the yeast transcription factors Yap1 and Yap2," which focused on
determining how cadmium activates Yap1 and Yap2 by studying the localization of fluorescently-tagged proteins in mammalian cells. The significance of knowing how these proteins react to stress is that the knowledge can be applied to better understand similar mechanisms found in human cells.
"The undergraduate poster competition was especially rewarding because we could talk about science and college in general." said Stamm. "It was also very interesting being able to attend talks and posters about leading research instead of reading old techniques from textbooks."
Koechli, a senior biochemistry and molecular biology major from Greer, S.C., addressed "Breakfast of champions: The degradation of sertraline hydrochloride by Pseudomonas fluorescens Pf-5," which analyzed sertraline (ZoloftTM), a commonly prescribed anti-depressant that has recently been shown to pollute aquatic and soil environments, and its adverse affect on water- and soil-dwelling organisms. Her objective was to identify a microbial organism that would be able to efficiently metabolize sertraline. She discovered that sertraline is able to break down over time in a wastewater sludge environment and identified Pseudomonas fluorescens Pf-5 as a species able to degrade sertraline. This provides hope for potential future use of the species in remediation methods targeting sertraline and sertraline-like pollutants in the environment.
"My experience at the conference reassured me that my choice of major was the correct one for me at Wooster," said Koechli. "I realized that Wooster has given me a great education. I had the scientific background to grasp the main concept of all of the talks I attended, as well as having the critical thinking skills to analyze the research being presented and correlate it back to concepts I have learned over the past year."
Palmer, a senior biochemistry and molecular biology major from Burghill, Ohio, presented "Characterization of a dimeric phosphagen kinase in Phytophthora sojae suggests an early origin of
phosphagen kinase dimers," a study that used a phosphagen kinase, a family of enzymes that play important roles in energy metabolism in humans, as a model to study the evolution of new structures and functions in proteins. The phosphagen kinase from Phytophora sojae, a protozoan, was studied to learn more about the early evolution of these proteins. This enzyme was found to use a substrate previously unrecognized in protozoans, and its conformation as a dimer is rare in early phosphagen kinases. These findings will help provide a clearer picture of the evolution of the enzymes in this family.
"Attending a national conference was a great experience because I had a chance to immerse myself in the current scientific research that is going on around the country and the world," said Palmer. "I attended talks on areas of research in which I've participated, as well as research I have an interest in doing in the future or just love to hear about. It was also a very enjoyable experience to present my own research and to talk to other researchers about my findings, ways to improve my study, and how it relates to other areas of research."
Brown, a sophomore biochemistry and molecular biology major from Wilmette, Ill., addressed "Examining the influence of the sulfur assimilation pathway on the regulation of the antioxidant response in baker's yeast," in which she studied baker's yeast and how it responds to oxidative stress, which is useful because yeast are good model systems. The results of this study have potential implications in dealing with some of the effects (cancer, aging) of oxidative damage in mammalian cells. The goal of her research was to examine how knocking out one response to
stress impacts the main antioxidant response pathway in yeast. The results suggest that the overall magnitude of the antioxidant response is higher in cells that can't use the sulfur assimilation pathway to help in detoxifying harmful oxidants.
"It was difficult to plan which lectures to go to because I was intrigued by so much of the research going on," said Brown. "After each talk, I left with a feeling of awe and amazement at getting to learn firsthand about discoveries being made in the lab. I was much more confident explaining my poster because I knew that despite my status as an undergraduate, I was still contributing to the exciting world of research and investigation. This experience also showed me how fortunate I am to be at Wooster where, as a sophomore, I have already been able to do research and present it to a wider community of biochemists."
Klein, a junior from Grosse Pointe, Mich., with a double major in biochemistry and molecular biology and physics, presented "Investigating the chaperone ability of two sHsp isoforms based on protection of a model substrate" a study of two small heat-shock proteins that have the potential to protect the native proteins of a plant, such as those necessary to maintain normal cellular processes.
"By participating in a national conference, I was able to see some of what is going on in the world of science," said Klein. "By being able to interact with scientists at every level and hear talks from scientists from a variety of different backgrounds, I was able to learn about exciting new techniques as well as get a broader idea of what life as a researcher is like."
Dean Fraga, professor of biology, presented "Three members of the unusually large family of protein phosphatase 2B (PP2B, calcineurin) in Paramecium have distinct roles in calcium dependent processes," which included two Wooster alumni as coauthors: Ray Gaines, a 2008 Wooster graduate, and William Barrington, a 2010 graduate.
"Our students were very engaged at the meeting, attending all the sessions they could and fielding questions about their work from professionals in the field," said Fraga. "I found it
particularly gratifying to see how well our students presented their work to other scientists, and how they handled the questions that followed."
James West, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, presented "Comparison of cell death induced by diethylmaleate and structurally related analogs." West's poster dealt with how cells respond to a family of reactive molecules, some of which are use clinically to treat psoriasis. The study, which was co-authored with Chelsea Stamm, suggests that introducing slight modifications in chemical structure of the molecule diethylmaleate can have a significant impact on a molecule's potency in terms of its ability to bring about cell death.
"The ASBMB meeting program was altogether excellent this year," said West. "We started off on
Saturday with the students presenting in the Undergraduate Poster Competition, where they represented the college very well, and ended the day with a lecture on the cellular roles of small RNA molecules by Nobel laureate Phil Sharp. I think all of us returned to Wooster revitalized and excited, ready to share what we had learned and experienced with others on campus."
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