Cutting-edge Research Showcased at Molecular Biophysics Retreat

The ninth annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat was held at Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown on Sept. 18. The event was organized by David Beveridge, professor of chemistry and the University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics; Manju Hingorani, associate professor of molecular biology; and Ishita Mukerji, professor of molecular biology.

Taekhip Ha, the keynote speaker of the Ninth Annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat speaks to guests.

Taekhip Ha, the keynote speaker of the Ninth Annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat, speaks to guests.

The presentations given in the early 20th century mansion’s west drawing room included: Professor of Chemistry Irina Russu’s lecture on “Base Opening and Structural Energetics in Nucleic Acids;” Professor of Biology and Hughes Program in the Life Sciences Director Michael Weir’s discussion of “A Puzzle in Translation Initiation;” Assistant Professor of Physics Francis Starr’s explanation of “DNA Functionalized Nanoparticles: Creating a Customized Chemistry Tool-kit;” and Professor Beveridge’s lecture on “The New Dynamical Landscape of Protein Allostery.”

“I think one of great things about the retreat is that it’s so interdisciplinary. It’s great for students to see how all these different disciplines can work together to address scientific problems,” Mukerji says.

In his introduction to the program, Dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Professor of Biology and Professor of Neuroscience and Behavior David Bodznick also heralded the interdisciplinary nature of the program, remarking that the Molecular Biophysics Program was one of the very first interdisciplinary programs in the sciences at Wesleyan. He said that the National Institute of Health-funded Molecular Biophysics Training Grant was “a great source of pride for Wesleyan” and the only such training grant awarded to a liberal arts college in the entire country.

Taekjip Ha of University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign gave a keynote speech titled “Shedding Light on Helicase Mechanisms One Molecule at a Time” to a to a standing-room only crowd.

Sattanathan Paramasivan, a graduate student in the chemistry department, talks about his research during a poster session.

Sattanathan Paramasivan, a graduate student in the chemistry department, talks about his research during a poster session.

More than 30 undergraduates, graduate students and post-doc researchers from the molecular biology and biochemistry, chemistry, biology, and physics departments participated in two poster sessions.

Undergraduate researcher and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Physics major Alison Ringel ’09 explained her work titled “SI2-GAPDH Interactions in Yeast”:

“I study the regulation of a protein (Sir2) that helps to establish which genes are turned on and off in a cell,” Ringel says.

“Sir2 has also been implicated in the regulation of longevity in yeast and other more complex multicellular organisms.  I’m studying the connection between Sir2 and another protein that’s involved in glucose metabolism, which may help us understand the regulatory pathways that govern aging in response to environmental triggers, like reducing the availability of calories,” she says.

Ringel’s plan is to apply to graduate school this fall for biophysics and says that the exposure she got to work being done in the biophysics community was valuable.

“It’s always interesting to gather together with a group of professors and students who share specific common interests. The poster sessions provide an opportunity to speak to fellow undergrads and grads and learn more about the research that gets done in the biophysics program at Wesleyan,” Ringel says.

(Photos by Intisar Abioto ’09)