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.