Monday, June 26, 2017

Summer research in the Muna lab

Professor Muna's first team consists of Chemistry majors David Aupperle and Joseph Williamson. They are working jointly to study the effect of self assembled monolayers (SAMs) of thiol molecules on gold electrodes modified with electrodeposited palladium nanoparticles (PdNPs). Their goal is to investigate whether the presence of SAMs improves the electrochemical behavior of gold electrodes modified with PdNPs by enhancing the analytical signal during the electrocatalytic oxidation of steroid hormones.

The second group in the Muna lab teams up Chemistry major Abigail Praklet with Biology major Keon Jones. Together they are trying to develope a sensitive and stable electrochemical method to detect lead in both water and soil samples using glassy carbon and screen-printed carbon electrodes modified with bismuth nanoparticles. The developed method will be tested by determining the levels of lead in local samples. Abigail is the fourth student in our department to be awarded a SMART grant this summer. Keon is the recipient of an LSAMP Summer Research Fellowship.

Summer research in the Anderson laboratory

Biochemistry major Victor Gutierrez-Schultz is continuing work on an ongoing project to clone the genes for the enzyme arsenite oxidase into E. coli, and induce these bacteria into making the enzyme in an environmentally friendly manner. This enzyme has the potential to be used in water purification methods to remove arsenic from groundwater. The original host, Alcaligenes faecalis, makes the arsenite oxidase enzyme only when the growth medium contains the arsenite so that growing A. faecalis to isolate the enzyme generates many 55 gallon drums of arsenic-containing toxic waste. By transferring the genes into E. coli, Victor will induce expression of the protein IPTG, a non-toxic inducer of the lac operon. Previous attempts at cloning the arsenite oxidase genes into E. coli generated new mutations, which could affect the structure and activity of the enzyme. Victor is repairing the introduced mutations through site-specific mutagenesis. Subsequent experiments will aim to find the best conditions for inducing enzyme synthesis, correctly folding the two subunits of the enzyme, and properly inserting the [3F-4S] cluster, the molybdopterin cofactor, and the [2Fe-2S] Rieske center into the enzyme. Congratulations to Victor for being awarded a SMART grant to support his summer research with Dr. Anderson.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Summer research in the Rizk lab

It is crowded in the Rizk lab this summer as three award-winning students work side-by-side with each other and Professor Rizk. While relatively new to the department (he joined in 2015), Rizk was quick to start a research program that attracted several undergraduate students.

Biochemistry major Maggie Fink (left) was awarded the Carolyn & Lawrence Garber Summer Research Scholarship. Her project focuses on using protein engineering tools to generate molecules that self-assemble in a reversible manner. The aim is to find a set of mutant proteins based on the bacterial maltose binding protein that can form large structures when the sugar maltose is added, and then disassemble when the sugar is removed. The project will explore the ability of protein engineering tools to develop dynamic nano-structures based on biological molecules for a number of applications that include drug delivery and biosensing.
Another biochemistry major, Mary Sobieralski (second from the left), received a SMART grant for the summer to work on developing engineered proteins known as antibody fragments (Fabs) that can modulate the activity of human enzymes. She is focusing on trying to identify Fabs that can reverse the effects of deleterious mutations in the enzyme cystathionine beta synthase (CBS), which lead to a condition known as homocysteinuria. This disease causes problems with vision as well as heart disease due to the inability of the body to metabolize derivatives of the amino acids cysteine and methionine. Mary will attempt to examine the factors needed to rescue the function of CBS mutants as a first step in addressing homocysteinuria and other so-called enzyme deficiencies.
Biology major Pierre N'Guetta (right) is continuing his project from last summer on developing biosensors for glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide RoundUp. Pierre began the project last summer in the Rizk lab, then during the fall of 2016, students enrolled in the CHEM-C 486 biochemistry lab tested some of the reagents he generated last summer. Pierre hopes to wrap up the project by characterizing a number of biosensors for glyphosate that change their fluorescence profile when exposed to the substance. He is also working on enhancing the sensitivity of the sensors to enable detention of small amounts of glyphosate in the environment. Like Mary, Pierre was also awarded a SMART grant for this summer.