Tag Archive for biochemistry

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.

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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.

Starr, Mukerji Explore Ways to Better Engage Students, Faculty in the Sciences

Professors Francis Starr and Ishita Mukerji recently participated in the National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education at Princeton University.

Professors Francis Starr and Ishita Mukerji recently participated in the National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education at Princeton University.

For their efforts enhancing undergraduate science education and supporting teaching innovations, two Wesleyan faculty members were named National Academies Education Fellows in the Sciences for 2015-2016.

Francis Starr, professor of physics and director of the College of Integrative Sciences, and Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, received the fellowships while participating in the 2015 National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education, held June 14-19 at Princeton University.

The Summer Institute, a five-day program of discussions, demonstrations and workshops, brought college and university faculty together to develop teaching skills. Co-sponsored by the National Academies and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Starr, Mukerji and 44 other participants were taught ways to transform the undergraduate classroom and engage students and fellow faculty in the sciences. Current research, active learning, assessment and diversity were woven into the program, creating a forum to share ideas and develop innovative instructional materials to be implemented at each participant’s home institution.

Pictured at far right, wearing a striped shirt, Francis Starr worked with more than 40 other faculty from around New England at the Summer Institute. 

Pictured at far right, wearing a striped shirt, Francis Starr worked with more than 40 other faculty from around New England at the Summer Institute. (Photo by Jill Feldman/Princeton University)

“Wesleyan’s commitment to teaching innovation puts us at the forefront of improving undergraduate education that is essential to prepare future scientists and scientifically literate citizens,” Starr said.

During the institute, Starr and Mukerji developed a “teachable tidbit” with four other institute participants. These tidbits can be implemented in a course during the academic year. In addition, Starr and Mukerji are planning to speak about their experiences to fellow faculty at an NSM luncheon. They’re also working on creating an Academic (Technology) Roundtable meeting with one of the co-directors of the institute.

“Francis and I were both interested in learning these new teaching methods and we’re excited to share them with others on campus,” Mukerji said.

3 Students Receive Goldwater Honorable Mentions

#THISISWHY

Wesleyan students Selin Kutlu ’16, Jacob “Jack” Lashner ’16 and Aaron Young ’16 have been chosen for honorable mention by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program for the 2015-2016 academic year. The award is presented annually to U.S. sophomores and juniors for excellence in mathematics, science and engineering. This year’s recipients were selected from a field of more than 1,200 students nominated by faculty from more than 420 colleges and universities nationwide. Less than half the students nominated each year are selected as a scholar or for honorable mention.

Kutlu

Selin Kutlu ’16

Kutlu, a molecular biology and biochemistry and neuroscience and behavior double major, is interested in understanding not only biological mechanisms at the cellular and molecular level, but also how these mechanisms can alter human health and behavior. Working with Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, Kutlu combines her interest in both biochemistry and neuroscience through research on DNA mismatch repair, a process that corrects errors made during DNA replication. “These errors can cause mutations that can have deleterious effects on an organism’s health, including carcinogenesis and neurological disorders such as Huntington’s disease,” said Kutlu. Her career goal is to obtain an MA and PhD in molecular biology in order to teach at the university level and conduct biomedical research.

Kutlu ’16 Receives ASBMB Undergraduate Research Award

Selin Kutlu '16

Selin Kutlu ’16

Selin Kutlu ’16 recently received the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) undergraduate research award for her work in DNA mismatch repair. ASBMB’s mission is to advance the science of biochemistry and molecular biology through the publication of scientific and educational journals, the organization of scientific meetings, advocacy for funding of basic research and education, support of science education at all levels, and promoting the diversity of individuals entering the scientific workforce.

Hingorani Serves as NSF Program Director for the Biosciences

Manju Hingorani

Manju Hingorani

Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, is serving as the rotating program director at the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C. Her rotation concludes in August and she will resume teaching next fall.

The MCB supports quantitative, predictive and theory-driven fundamental research and related activities designed to promote understanding of complex living systems at the molecular, subcellular and cellular levels. MCB gives high priority to research projects that use theory, methods and technologies from physical sciences, mathematics, computational sciences and engineering to address major biological questions. Typical research supported by MCB integrates theory and experimentation.

“I look forward to advancing science from this very different and much broader perspective than usual. And it would be nice to become a more effective advocate for basic research and science education after this experience,” she said.

 

Everett ’15 Co-Authors Paper Published in Nature Communications

Holly Everett '15

Holly Everett ’15

A paper co-authored by molecular biology and biochemistry major Holly Everett ’15 is published in the December 2014 issue of Nature Communications. The article, titled “High-throughput detection of miRNAs and gene-specific mRNA at the single-cell level by flow cytometry,” describes a novel approach to visualizing RNA and protein simultaneously at the single cell level.

Everett has been working on the accompanying research at the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard.

This new technology uses gene-specific probes and a signal amplification system based on a “branched DNA” principle. The authors show that this novel flow-FISH (for “Fluorescent in situ hybridization”) technique is sensitive, specific and can be multiplexed with simultaneous detection of three different gene-specific RNAs. The results further demonstrate their ability to measure expression of genes critical for immune cells, such as cytokines, in white blood cells specifically targeting the HIV or CMV viruses. The authors also demonstrate the capacity to detect mRNAs for which flow antibodies against the corresponding proteins are poor or are not available. Read more about the study online here.

Everett, who is completing her degree in three years, worked on this study between her sophomore and senior (gap) year, starting in 2013. She hopes to continue this research next year at a HIV and TB research institute in Durban, South Africa.

Everett’s advisor is Don Oliver, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, the Daniel Ayres Professor of Biology.

Grad Student’s Graphic to Appear on Journal’s Cover

Katherine Kaus's story and figure will appear in the September 2014 Journal of Molecular Biology. The figure depicts the structure of a domain of the Vibrio vulnificus hemolysin that binds cell-surface glycans allowing the toxin to attack target cells. The structure was determined using a technique called X-ray crystallography.

Katherine Kaus’s figure, based on an article she co-authored, will appear on the cover of the Sept. 9 Journal of Molecular Biology. The figure depicts the structure of a domain of the Vibrio vulnificus hemolysin that binds cell-surface glycans allowing the toxin to attack target cells. The structure was determined using a technique called X-ray crystallography.

A figure created by Katherine Kaus, graduate student in the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department, was selected to run as the featured cover graphic in the Sept. 9 Journal of Molecular Biology.

The graphic is related to her article, titled “Glycan Specificity of the Vibrio vulnificus Hemolysin Lectin Outlines Evolutionary History of Membrane Targeting by a Toxin Family,” which was published in the journal on July 29. It is co-authored by Rich Olson, assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and researchers at the University of Connecticut. The abstract appears online here.

Vibrio vulnificus is an emerging human pathogen that causes severe food poisoning and opportunistic infections with a mortality rate exceeding 50 percent.

The aquatic pathogen secretes a pore-forming toxin (PFT) called V. vulnificus hemolysin (VVH) which form transmembrane channels in cellular membranes. “Determining the mechanism for how PFTs bind membranes is important in understanding their role in disease and for developing possible ways to block their action,” Kaus explained in the paper’s abstract. Sequence analysis in light of the authors structural and functional data suggests that V. vulnificus hemolysin may represent an earlier step in the evolution of Vibrio PFTs.

State Grant will Support Hingorani’s Research on Lynch Syndrome

Manju Hingorani

Manju Hingorani

Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, received a grant worth $324,127 from the State of Connecticut Department of Public Health on May 1.

Hingorani will use the grant to address an important need for new diagnostic technology for Lynch Syndrome (LS), a genetic disorder involving malfunction of DNA mismatch repair, which substantively increases the risk of colorectal, endometrial and other cancers. About 150,000 patients are diagnosed with colon cancer in the U.S. per year, of whom more than one in 35 have LS, and three or more of their relatives are at risk for the disorder (about one in 500 Connecticut residents).

“Early diagnosis of LS can profoundly affect the way in which cancer patients are treated—with respect to surgery, chemotherapy and future surveillance—and provide analogous benefits to their family,” Hingorani explained.

Current validated tests for LS have limitations that lower their feasibility and widespread use in screening at-risk populations.

“Our hypothesis is that the core functions of MMR proteins can be measured directly, quantitatively, rapidly, reliably and at clinically relevant protein concentrations on a nano-structured surface,” she said.

This project, proposed in collaboration by investigators Hingorani and Prabir Patra, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Biomedical Engineering Program at the University of Bridgeport, is expected to enable development of novel diagnostic nanosensors that will enable substantive advances in the screening, diagnosis and treatment of colorectal and other cancers.

Oliver Honored with NIH Award for Protein Translocation Research

Don Oliver

Don Oliver

Professor Don Oliver received a three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) (R15) for his research titled “Mechanism of SecA-dependent protein translocation.” The grant, worth $374,148, was awarded on April 15.

Oliver is the Daniel Ayres Professor of Biology and professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

Oliver studies how proteins are targeted to and transported across biological membranes utilizing bacteria as a simple model system.”The current genetic and biochemical studies are designed to elucidate a molecular motor protein, SecA ATPase, that drives proteins through a universally conserved protein-conducting channel by a largely unknown molecular mechanism,” he said.  “Clarification of the transport mechanism by this motor and its interplay with the channel is essential for understanding comparable protein transport systems in higher cells.”

In addition, such studies should allow for the development of novel antibacterial agents against SecA in order to combat the spread of multi-drug resistant bacterial pathogens.

The grant funds will be utilized to support two Ph.D. Students, a BA/MA fifth-year student, and four undergraduate research students that comprise of Oliver’s research group.