College of Wooster Students Distinguish Themselves at National Science Event

Seven participate in 18th annual American Society for Biochemistry & Molecular Biology meeting

23 June, 2014 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Enterprising students from The College of Wooster made another impressive showing at the 18th annual American Society for Biochemistry & Molecular Biology meeting, which was held recently in San Diego.

Seven Wooster students presented their research at the annual meeting, which was attended by thousands of graduate students and faculty as well as several hundred undergraduates nationwide, and two of those seven received awards for their presentations. Seniors Zach Harvey and Manish Aryal earned the designation of honorable mention for their research and their presentations at the undergraduate student research poster competition.

"The students were judged on two primary criteria: the quality of their research and the clarity of their presentation," said Mark Snider, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biology. "This includes their hypothesis, methods, results, and conclusions, as well as their overall presentation and poster. Zach and Manish conducted excellent research, and both made very strong presentations. Winning these awards placed them in the top 10 percent among the 250 undergraduate competitors."

Harvey, a chemistry major from Morrow, Ohio, discussed his research on vitamin B3 and his discovery of a bacterial species that was capable of causing it to degrade in the environment. "He was able to sequence the genome of this bacterial species and further identify a possible cluster of genes that explain how this bacteria degrades the vitamin," said Snider. "If we are able to understand how natural processes can degrade these molecules, we might be able to determine more efficient ways to clean up similar contaminants in the environment."

Aryal, a biochemistry and molecular biology major from Nepal, followed up on previous work by Wooster students and faculty in an effort to further examine the versatility of a particular mechanism within the phosphagen kinase family. "His study clarified a possible hypothesis for how the members within this enzyme family evolved from one another," said Snider. "We plan to publish his findings later this summer."

Joining Harvey and Aryal were Helena Kondow, James Claybourne, Pailin Chiaranunt, Jacob Sprano, and Abigail Daniel.

Kondow, a senior biochemistry and molecular biology major from North Royalton, Ohio, worked with Snider to investigate how a particular enzyme structure evolved over time to make it work with a substrate. The two looked at what elements of the structure are critical for allowing the enzyme to catalyze its reaction.

Claybourne, a senior neuroscience major from McKees Rocks, Pa., and Shi, a junior biochemistry and molecular biology major from Alliance, Ohio, worked with Snider as well as Melissa Schultz, associate professor of chemistry, and Stephanie Strand, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. The group looked at antidepressants in the environment and how bacteria have evolved to break them down. They were able to demonstrate that the process requires a mixture of transition metals to be present for bacteria to complete the degradation process.

Chiaranunt, a senior biochemistry and molecular biology and philosophy double major from Thailand; Sprano, a senior biochemistry and molecular biology and history double major from Anchorage, Alaska; and Daniel, a junior biochemistry and molecular biology major from Littleton, Colo., teamed with Snider to look at the potential of Vitamin B as an alternative method in the treatment and possible prevention of whooping cough.

"To have this many of our students presenting their work at the national level is impressive," said Snider. "The process of developing hypotheses, analyzing data, understanding conclusions, creating a poster, presenting the results, and responding to questions in a clear and concise manner is a wonderful exercise for our students — and one that provides an excellent foundation for future work in the field.

"Our students proved that they can tackle interesting and complex problems from multiple perspectives and work together in advancing the sciences more quickly and efficiently," added Snider. "We believe it is a very important part of a Wooster education to be able to not only conduct the research, but also to present it in a manner that is accessible to a large audience."

The student researchers received funding from The College of Wooster Student Travel Fund, the Department of Chemistry, the Clare Boothe Luce Foundation, the Wooster Section of the American Chemical Society, Research Corporation for Science Advancement, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the National Science Foundation.