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Wooster Students Shine During Presentations at National Meeting

Undergraduates demonstrate depth of research in biochemistry and molecular biology

May 24, 2012 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Six students from The College of Wooster demonstrated an impressive level of proficiency in presenting their research at the annual American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology meeting last month in San Diego. The annual event, part of a consortium of meetings organized by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, consisted of poster sessions, short research presentations, and longer retrospectives that surveyed a large research area. Many of the students’ projects exploited genomic information to investigate in molecular detail the physiology of different microbes, including human and plant pathogens. Such an understanding is the first step to discovering novel treatments of pathogens.

"We found that our students were very engaged at the meeting," said Dean Fraga, professor of biology, biochemistry and molecular biology at Wooster. “They did very well in their presentations and received valuable feedback.”

Among the students representing Wooster were senior Matthew Bauerle, who collaborated with first-years William Ammons and Karina Shvets, on a project led by Mark Snider, associate professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology at Wooster. The group looked at “Analysis of substrate specificity of 6-hydroxynicotinate-3-monooxygenase (NicC) from Bordetella bronchiseptica,” which involved measuring the enzyme’s affinity for a variety of potential substrates and inhibitors in order to investigate the function of the enzyme and how it catalyzes its oxidation reaction.

Also presenting was senior Samantha Justice, who worked with Snider on a project titled “Investigation of the potential role of 6-hydroxynicotinate monooxygenase in the modulation of virulence in Bordetella pertussis.” The study focused on efforts to make a connection between molecules known to shut down the virulence of pertussis (a highly contagious bacterial disease also know as whooping cough) and the function of the enzyme in the bacterial pathway that degrades Vitamin B3. “By determining the mechanisms of these enzymes,” Snider said, “we might be able to design specific enzyme inhibitors that could become novel pharmaceuticals for the treatment of whooping cough.”

Senior Jeffrey Noel, who worked with Snider and fellow senior Nick Spittle, presented “On the role of Cys150 in the mechanism of maleamate amidohydrolase (NicF),” which focused on a different enzyme in the Vitamin B3 degradation pathway to determine the mechanism of the enzyme at the atomic level.

In addition, junior Brittany Begres combined with Snider and Fraga to present “Characterization of a hypotaurocyamine kinase from the protozoan, Phytophthora sojae, and its implications on the evolution of substrate specificity in the phosphagen kinase family,” which characterized a novel phosphagen kinase from a notorious plant pathogen in order to explore hypotheses about the molecular evolution of enzymes in this family and how it might be exploited for the development of pesticides targeted at this widespread crop pathogen.

Another presentation featured senior Thomas Bohl, who worked with Fraga on a project titled “Spatial buffering of ATP by arginine kinase may be critical for Myxococcus xanthus development,” in which he was able to show how a gene can jump from one organism to another and confer a selective advantage — in this case an ability to better tolerate environmental stress. The transfer of genes from one organism to another is one mechanism by which pathogens can spread resistances or target new hosts.

Rounding out the Wooster delegation was senior Haley Brown who joined James West, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the presentation of “Alterations in the activity of the yeast peroxiredoxin Tsa1 upon modification by alkylating agents.” Brown studied how a protein from baker’s yeast protects cells against a class of highly reactive, toxic molecules. She was able to show that the reactive molecules inhibit the normal function of this protein; instead, the protein may play a role in helping other proteins in the cell maintain their three-dimensional structures.

“Participation in national meetings like this provide our students with an opportunity to realize how the results of their research at Wooster contributes to science and the scientific community at large,” said Snider. “Many times that realization sparks their interest in a particular area and inspires them on a path for postgraduate study and lifelong learning.”