Tag Archive for biochemistry

Oppenheim ’02 Urges Cooperation, Preparation for Pandemic Threats

Ben Oppenheim ’02, a senior fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, as well as a consulting scientist with the start-up Metabiota, writes about the importance of international collective action for pandemic preparedness.

Ben Oppenheim ’02, a consulting scientist with Metabiota, a start-up focusing on epidemiological modeling and epidemic risk preparedness, was recently invited to participate in a workshop at the National Academy of Medicine. As a result, Oppenheim and his colleagues wrote an article published in Lancet Global Health titled “Financing of International Collective Action for Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness,” based on these meetings. Also writing for the Brookings Institution, Oppenheim further explored the challenges of responding to global outbreaks, offering a four-point plan to protect the global poor during pandemics, with co-author Gavin Yamey.

“Post-Ebola and Zika, there’s been increasing worry—and debate—about how to prepare for epidemics and pandemics that threaten global health,” notes Oppenheim, who is also a senior fellow and visiting scholar at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. “Cracking the problem means thinking through the ways that policy, economics, health, and other factors all intertwine. In the workshop, we were thinking about how to build incentives to improve disease surveillance and outbreak detection, as well as how to improve the legal and economic architecture to speed up the development of vaccines and therapeutics. All of this demands attention to everything from epidemiology, to financing, and to politics.”

Oppenheim also discussed the economic impacts of pandemics,

McAlear Visits Former Students Odede ’09, ’12, and Perel-Slater ’11 at Non-Profits in Africa

Professor Michael McAlear gathers with students at Shining Hope for Community, the nonprofit begun by Jessica ’09 and Kennedy ’12 Odede in Kibera, Africa. 

In 2010 Professor Michael McAlear first gathered with students at Shining Hope for Community, the nonprofit begun by Jessica ’09 and Kennedy ’12 Odede in Kibera, Kenya, offering a lecture on clean water. This year on his visit during spring break, he again gave a lecture to these students, now pre-teens and young teenagers, who filled his Q&A session with their concerns, interest, ideas, and a deep desire to learn.

In March, during Wesleyan’s spring break, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Michael McAlear took a trip to visit and catch up with three alumni whom he’d known when they were undergraduates, just beginning the nonprofits for which they are now known. McAlear doesn’t see them often: they live and work in Africa. All three had received Wesleyan’s Christopher Brodigan Award in their senior year, for research or work in Africa.

Kennedy Odede '12, Mike McAlear and Jessica ’09 Odede.

Pictured from left are Kennedy Odede ’12, Mike McAlear and Jessica Posner Odede ’09.

McAlear’s first stop was in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya, and home of SHOFCO, Shining Hope for Community, the nonprofit begun by Jessica ’09 and Kennedy ’12 Odede. Linking education for girls with community services, the organization has grown since McAlear had last visited in 2010 to help set up the school, when it held only two classes of girls ages 6 and 7, and the group was building a clinic was built to honor Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10, the student slain in the spring of 2009. At that time, McAlear offered the young students a lecture on clean water and also became a sponsor for one little girl, a responsibility and relationship that is ongoing,

“I was overwhelmed by the need in Kibera— and the optimism and fearlessness of Kennedy and Jessica; you couldn’t help being swept up by that,” McAlear recalls. “They were so young and naïve that they didn’t know what they couldn’t do—so they just kept on doing things.”

Students Inducted into Honor Society, Win Awards At American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Julianne Riggs in Chicago last month, where she attended the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology meeting.

Julianne Riggs ’17 in Chicago last month, where she attended the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology meeting.

Five Wesleyan seniors were inducted into the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology honor society at the ASBMB annual meeting in Chicago, April 22-26. They are: Jennifer Cascino ’17, Kaileen Fei ’17, Julianne Riggs ’17, Rachel Savage ’17 and Stacy Uchendu ’17.

The ASBMB Honor Society recognizes exceptional undergraduate juniors and seniors who are pursuing a degree in the molecular life sciences for their scholarly achievement, research accomplishments, and outreach activities. The mission of the society is to advance the science of biochemistry and molecular biology through organization of scientific meetings, advocacy for funding of basic research and education, support of science education at all levels, promotion of the diversity of individuals entering the scientific workforce, and publication of a number of scientific and educational journals, including the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the Journal of Lipid Research.

Bios of all the inductees, in alphabetical order, can be found here.

Riggs attended the meeting, where she took part in the induction ceremony and presented her research.

“Overall, it was a great experience. I got to present in the undergraduate poster competition and won honorable mention for best chromatin and gene expression poster. I also presented my poster to the general meeting,” she said. “It was a huge conference and there was so much going on. It was great to talk to people of all levels of science, get their perspectives on what it takes to be a scientist, and hear them passionately discuss their research projects. It was also wonderful to talk to people who were researching similar topics to mine, and get their advice and validation on my work.”

In addition, two students, Christine Little ’18 and Cody Hecht ’18, received ASBMB research awards. The $1,000 awards will support their research over the summer.

Faculty, Students, Alumnus Co-Author Paper in Biochemistry Journal

Wesleyan co-authors published a paper titled “The Stories Tryptophans Tell: Exploring Protein Dynamics of Heptosyltransferase I from Escherichia coli” in the January 2017 issue of Biochemistry.

The co-authors include chemistry graduate student Joy Cote; alumni Zarek Siegel ’16 and Daniel Czyzyk, PhD ’15; and faculty Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry; Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

Their paper investigates the intrinsic properties of Tryptophan amino acids found within the protein, Heptosyltransferase I, to understand the ways this protein moves during catalysis. Understanding the movement of this protein is an important step in developing its inhibitors.

When this protein is inactive, either because it was genetically altered or inhibited, hydrophobic antibiotics become more effective, so inhibitors could be useful in reactivating antibiotics that are current not effective against these bacteria.

While it is popularly believed that inhibiting a protein requires a compound to compete with the substrate, their paper argues that instead one can design a inhibitor to disrupt protein dynamics, preventing activity. The co-authors compare the function of this “protein dynamics disruptor” to a wedge holding open a door–once inserted, the inhibitor prevents the protein from performing its function.

Their research on Tryptophan residues also found that distant regions of the protein communicate whether or not they are binding their substrate to other regions.

“It would be like if your right hand knew that your left hand was holding a pencil just by the changes in the position of your left hand. We are currently pursuing computational studies to look for these motions via molecular dynamics experiments,” Taylor said.

Students Present Thesis Work at Biophysical Society Meeting

Three Wesleyan Molecular Biology and Biochemistry majors received the unique opportunity of presenting their thesis work at the 61st annual Biophysical Society meeting in New Orleans, Feb. 11-15.

Rachel Savage ’17 presented her senior honors thesis titled, “Investigation of the Melting Thermodynamics of a DNA 4-Way Junction: One Base at a Time,” which was done in collaboration with Francis Starr, professor of physics.

Rachel Savage ’17 presented her senior honors thesis titled, “Investigation of the Melting Thermodynamics of a DNA 4-Way Junction: One Base at a Time,” which was done in collaboration with Francis Starr, professor of physics.

Chemistry, Physics Students Attend Biomedical Research Conference

Contributed photo

From Nov. 9-12, two faculty members and five students from the physics and chemistry departments, attended the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Tampa, Fla.

Candice Etson, assistant professor of physics, and Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry, were joined by McNair Scholars Luz Mendez ’17, Tatianna Pryce ’17, Stacy Uchendu ’17 and Hanna Morales ’17; and Wesleyan Mathematics and Science (WesMaSS) Scholar Helen Karimi ’19.

Students observed other research being performed around the nation by students who are members of underrepresented groups in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). In addition, the Wesleyan students presented their own research and Morales and Karimi were awarded Outstanding Poster Presentation Awards.

“Through the PIE Initiative, Wesleyan has a deliberate strategy to support underrepresented students and faculty in STEM fields by providing resources that increasing post-Wesleyan mentorship and exposure to research excellence, all of which were fulfilled through this conference,” said Antonio Farias, vice president for equity and inclusion/Title IX officer. “It cannot go without saying that without Professor Taylor’s and Professor Etson’s holistic mentorship approach, these type of opportunities for our young scholars would not be possible.”

RNA Splicing, Student Research Discussed at Biophysics, Biological Chemistry Retreat

The Molecular Biophysics Program, the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry hosted the 17th Annual Molecular Biophysics and Biological Chemistry Retreat on Sept. 29 at Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown.

The event included several talks by Wesleyan faculty and two student research poster presentations.

Professor Anna Pyle delivered the keynote address titled “Structural and Mechanistic Insights into RNA Splicing.” Pyle is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and the William Edward Gilbert Professor in the Departments of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and Chemistry at Yale University. Pyle studies the structure and function of large RNA molecules and RNA remodeling enzymes. A Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator since 1997 and the author of more than 150 publications, she uses a diverse set of biochemical and biophysical techniques, including crystallography and chemical probing, to understand the structural complexity of RNA architecture.

Photos of the retreat are below: (Photos by Will Barr ’19 and Gabi Hurlock ’20)

Biophysics Retreat at Wadsworth Mansion Sept 29, 2016. (Photo by Gabi Hurlock)

Hingorani Finishes Program Director Appointment with NSF

Manju Hingorani

Manju Hingorani

Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, professor of integrative sciences, recently completed a two-year tenure working for the National Science Foundation’s Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB). Hingorani served as the program director of the MCB Genetic Mechanisms program.

Hingorani worked with investigator-driven proposals submitted to both the Genetic Mechanisms and the Cellular Dynamics and Function programs. As a rotating program director, Hingorani managed proposal reviews and awards and responded to inquiries from principal investigators conducting fundamental research related to the central dogma of biology.

Dierker, Mukerji Honored as Women of Innovation

Lisa Dierker

Lisa Dierker

Lisa Dierker, professor of psychology, director of pilot programs for the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, and Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, professor of integrative sciences, were both honored at the 12th annual Women of Innovation Awards. Presented by the Connecticut Technology Council, the awards celebrate the energy, creativity and success of women and students from Connecticut’s science and technology community.

Both professors were honored in the category of Academic Innovation and Leadership. The celebration was held April 6 in Plantsville, Conn.

Dierker was honored for her work developing a curriculum to introduce students to a passion-driven, project-based course in applied statistics, data analysis and programming. Through a growing network of high schools, community colleges, and universities as well as a massive open online course (MOOC), she is dedicated to creating real access for women and other underserved populations, both locally and across the globe.

Ishita Mukerji

Ishita Mukerji

Mukerji was recognized for her research focused on the study of protein-DNA interactions to understand the mechanisms of gene expression, DNA replication and DNA repair. She previously served as dean of science and mathematics at Wesleyan, where she helped to establish the Wesleyan Math and Science Scholars program and the College of Integrative Sciences.

Firshein Remembered for being a Founding Member of the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department

William "Bill" Firshein

William “Bill” Firshein

William “Bill” Firshein, the Daniel Ayres Professor of Biology, emeritus, died Dec. 7 at the age of 85.

Firshein arrived at Wesleyan in 1958 after receiving his BS from Brooklyn College and his MS and PhD from Rutgers University. He taught at Wesleyan for 47 years before retiring in 2005.

Firshein was an active scholar who was awarded research grants totaling more than $2 million over his career. He investigated the molecular biology of DNA replication cell division in Bacillus subtilis and Escherichia coli and their plasmids. In his most recent book, The Infectious Microbe, published by Oxford University Press in January 2014, he discussed the relationship between humans and viruses and illustrated how pathogens are spread. This book was based on a very popular general education course that he taught for decades.

Firshein was a founding member of the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department, and served as chair of MB&B for seven years, and as chair of the Biology Department for three years. He was instrumental in the establishment of the PhD programs in biology and MB&B.

The Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department annually awards the William Firshein Prize in his honor to the graduating student who has contributed the most to the interests and character of the department each year.

William "Bill" Firshein. (Photos courtesy of Wesleyan University Special Collections & Archives)

William “Bill” Firshein. (Photos courtesy of Wesleyan University Special Collections & Archives)

“Bill was a true friend to his colleagues and always available for effective useful advice and guidance to the young faculty,” said Anthony Infante, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, emeritus.

Firshein is survived by his wife, Anna, and his children, Kyrill, Alex, David, Alan and Eva. His family requests that memorial contributions be made in his name to the Wesleyan Memorial Fund and sent to the care of Marcy Herlihy, University Relations, 318 High Street, Middletown, CT 06459.

A memorial will take place at 4:15 p.m. Jan. 25 in Memorial Chapel. A reception will follow in Zelnick Pavillon.

arupc_faculty_firshein_003

Hingorani’s DNA Mismatch Study Published in PNAS

Manju Hingorani

Manju Hingorani

Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, is the co-author of “MutL Traps MutS at a DNA Mismatch,” published in the July 21 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Postdoctoral researcher Miho Sakato also co-authored the article.

DNA mismatch repair is the process by which errors generated during DNA replication are corrected. Mutations in the proteins that initiate mismatch repair, MutS and MutL, are associated with greater than 80 percent of hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer and many sporadic cancers. The assembly of MutS and MutL at a mismatch is an essential step for initiating repair; however, the nature of these interactions is poorly understood.

In this study, Hingorani, Sakato and their fellow researchers discovered that MutL fundamentally changes the properties of mismatch-bound MutS by preventing it from sliding away from the mismatch, which it normally does when isolated. This finding suggests a mechanism for localizing the activity of repair proteins near the mismatch.

 

Students Share Summer Research at Poster Session

On July 30, Wesleyan’s Summer Research Poster Session took place at Exley Science Center. More than 110 undergraduate research fellows from Math and Computer Sciences, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, the Quantitative Analysis Center, and Psychology presented research at the event. (Photos by Laurie Kenney)

Aidan Bardos ’17 presented her research titled "The Effects of Nutrition on the Immune Response of Wooly Bear Caterpillars Infected by Parasitoid Wasps." Bardos' faculty advisor is Michael Singer, associate professor of biology and environmental studies.

Aidan Bardos ’17 presented her research titled “The Effects of Nutrition on the Immune Response of Wooly Bear Caterpillars Infected by Parasitoid Wasps.” Bardos’ faculty advisor is Michael Singer, associate professor of biology and associate professor of environmental studies.

A poster titled "Immunohistochemical Analysis of Status Epilepticus Mice Treated with Striatal-Enriched Tyrosine Phosphatase Inhibitor" was presented by Matt Pelton ’17. His advisor is Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.

A poster titled “Immunohistochemical Analysis of Status Epilepticus Mice Treated with Striatal-Enriched Tyrosine Phosphatase Inhibitor” was presented by Matt Pelton ’17. His advisor is Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.