Tag Archive for Chemistry

Othon, Taylor Design Molecule to Aid Space Travel Ailments

Christina Othon, assistant professor of physics, and Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, tune the laser frequency for ultrafast spectroscopy experiments in Othon's Lab in Exley Science Center.

During extended space travel, astronauts may experience dramatic health consequences, such as anemia, due to reduced gravity and exposure to space radiation.

To help combat the adverse effects of space ailments, two scientists at Wesleyan are developing new molecules that enhance cells’ ability to tolerate large swings in pressure, fluid redistribution, temperature and radiation exposure.

Christina Othon, assistant professor of physics, and Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, received a $20,000 seed grant from NASA’s Biological and Physical Research Enterprise to work on the project titled “Osmoregulation for Microgravity Environments.”

The scientists are taking inspiration from organisms that thrive in extremely hot, acidic or physically severe conditions. These animals, known as extremophiles, use water-regulating molecules known as osmolytes to combat extremes in temperature, hydration and pressure.

Erika Taylor and Christina Othon. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

By creating chemically modified carbohydrate molecules, the scientists anticipate being able to dramatically alter water dynamics in their newly-designed osmotic molecules. By introducing these new osmolytes near proteins, Othon and Taylor will create a “cage-like environment” around the proteins, eliminating competing hydrogen bonds, and thereby stabilizing the protein structure, even in extreme, anti-gravity environments.

“Ultimately, this could lead to new therapeutic pathways for the deleterious effects of long term space exploration,” Othon says.

Othon, who came to Wesleyan in 2010, worked on similar research at the California Institute of Technology. There, her group discovered a way to alter the movement of water surrounding proteins by adding fluorine. This process made the proteins significantly more stable to chemical and thermal changes.

And at Wesleyan, Taylor is investigating how of sugar molecules attached to a bacterial cell’s surface alter the way the cell interacts with its environment. “In my system, it has been shown that increasing the size of the carbohydrates attached to the surface of a bacterial cell increases the stability of that cell,” Taylor explains.

Since biochemistry and biophysics are closely related disciplines, the cross-department collaboration came naturally for physicist Othon and chemist Taylor. They’re both part of the Molecular Biophysics Program at Wesleyan, an interdepartmental, interdisciplinary program comprised of faculty, postdoctoral research associates, graduate students, and undergraduate students  situated in the departments of chemistry, molecular biology and biochemistry, physics and biology.

“Christina and I have many similar interests in understanding how biological systems work, and my hope is that this collaboration can grow toward a joint investigation of small molecule dynamics at the surface of a cell,” Taylor says.

 

Bolton, Bialonska, Song Published in Mutation Research

Philip Bolton, professor of chemistry; Dobroslawa Bialonska, postdoctoral fellow in in chemistry; and chemistry graduate student Kenneth Song are the co-authors of “Complexes of mismatched and complementary DNA with minor groove binders. Structures at nucleotide resolution via an improved hydroxyl radical cleavage methodology,” published in Mutation Research, 726(1): pages 47-53, 2011.

In this paper, the authors explain how they’ve developed a protocol to investigate the structures of the complexes of damaged DNA with drug like molecules. Tumor cell lines can replicate faster than normal cells and many also have defective DNA repair pathways. This has lead to the investigation of the inhibition of DNA repair proteins as a means of therapeutic intervention. An alternative approach is to hide or mask damaged DNA from the repair systems. The full abstract is online here.

Professor Haake Dies at Age 79

Paul Karl Haake, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, emeritus, died on Dec. 3 in Middletown, Conn. He was 79 years old. A memorial service was held Dec. 7 at the Wasch Center for Retired Faculty.

In the true spirit of the liberal arts and the Wesleyan tradition of service, Professor Haake was particularly proud of the popularcourses he taught to students outside the sciences and of his participation in community issues. In 1975, Governor Grasso appointed Professor Haake to the Connecticut’s Nuclear Power Evaluation Council, a commission concerned with the safety of nuclear power.

Professor Haake completed his A.B. (1954) and Ph.D. (Chemistry, 1961) at Harvard University. His doctoral research on hydrolysis and isotopic exchange, under the supervision of Frank Westheimer, resulted in the 1961 publication of his paper “Hydrolysis and Exchange in Esters of Phosphoric Acid,” published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. After initially beginning his teaching career at UCLA, where he taught from 1961-68, Haake joined the Wesleyan faculty in 1968.

During his 25 years as a full-time teacher and scholar at Wesleyan, Haake contributed to the development of the Ph.D. program in chemistry and the formulation of the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department. He also initiated the NSM luncheon series, an important interdisciplinary forum for Division III, and played a vital role in strengthening general education offerings across the Division III. His research resulted in publication of some one hundred scholarly articles and books. In 2004, after a dozen years in whichProfessor Haake split his time between teaching at Wesleyan and various other pursuits, he fully retired from Wesleyan.

(Information provided by Rob Rosenthal, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, the John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology.)

Taylor’s Paper Published by American Chemical Society

Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, is the co-author of “Lipopolysaccharide Biosynthesis without the Lipids: Recognition Promiscuity of Escherichia coli, Heptosyltransferase I,” published by the American Chemical Society in Nov. 2011. The abstract is available here.

 

NSF Supports Novick’s Chemistry Research

Stewart Novick, professor of chemistry, received a grant worth $43,260 from the National Science Foundation. The award is shared with Professor Stephen Cooke of SUNY-Purchase and represents a new collaboration between Professors Cooke and Novick who now co-mentor graduate students and share sophisticated equipment (Fourier transform microwave spectrometers housed in Novick’s lab at Wesleyan). The collaboration, which goes beyond this one grant, involves investigating the structures and dynamics of a whole range of systems including large halogenated compounds and molecules involving actinide valence electrons in their chemical bonding.

Current Research Presented at Biophysics, Chemistry Retreat

Vern Schramm spoke on “Drug Design from Transition State Analysis” during the 12th annual Molecular Biophysics and Biological Chemistry Retreat Sept. 22 in Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown. Schramm is professor and the Ruth Merns Chair in Biochemistry at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He investigates enzymatic transition state structures, which enable him to develop powerful inhibitors for treatment and prevention of cancer and other diseases.

DNA Studies by Hingorani, Beveridge Published in Journals

Manju Hingorani, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, co-authored a study titled “hMSH2 controls ATP processing by hMSH2-hMSH6,” published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry on Sept. 19. The abstract is online here.

Hingorani co-authored another study with David Beveridge, the Joshua Boger University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics, professor of chemistry, titled “Allosterism in Muts Proteins: How DNA Mismatch Recognition Signals Repair.” The study was published in the Biophysical Journal in 2011. The abstract is online here.

Bolton Published in Mutation Research

Philip Bolton, professor of chemistry, has published “Complexes of mismatched and complementary DNA with minor groove binders: Structures at nucleotide resolution via an improved hydroxyl radical cleavage methodology” in Mutation Research, 2011. The article is online here.

Beveridge Guest Lectures at Institute in New Delhi

Becky Lee '10 and Professor David Beveridge at the Institute of Technology in New Delhi, India.

David Beveridge, the Joshua Boger University Professor of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, professor of chemistry, was on sabbatical last spring at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in New Delhi, India. He was visiting and working on research projects with Professor B. Jayaram, director of the Supercomputer Center for Bioinformatics, SCFBIO.

Beveridge’s former student, Becky Lee ’10, was spending a year doing research in Jayaram’s SCFBIO research group on a project in computational biophysics.

Beveridge presented one of the thematic lectures on “Dynamic Allosterism” in a lecture series celebrating the 50th anniversary of IIT-Delhi.

NIH Supports Molecular Biophysics, Biological Chemistry Program

David Beveridge, the Joshua Boger University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics, professor of chemistry, received a five year graduate student training grant from the National Institutes of Heath (NIH) in support of Wesleyan’s interdepartmental program in Molecular Biophysics and Biological Chemistry (MBBC). This program is co-coordinated by Ishita Mukerji, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, director of graduate studies.

The MBBC Program involves 12 faculty members from chemistry, biology, MB&B and physics departments along with both graduate Ph.D. students and undergraduate certificate students. The grant, worth $662,820, is the latest in a series of awards to this program, which has been supported by the NIH since 1988.

Undergraduates Present Research at Summer Poster Session

More than 80 undergraduates presented recent research at the Wesleyan Summer Research Poster Session July 29 in Exley Science Center. Students majoring in biology, molecular biology and biochemistry, psychology, physics, earth and environmental sciences, chemistry, and other disciplines spent at least 10 weeks this summer working on research projects.

Oscar Takabvirwa '14 presented his research on "Solvation of (the peptide) Melittin Using Molecular Modeling." His advisors are Christina Othon, assistant professor of physics, and David Beveridge, the Joshua Boger University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics, professor of chemistry. This was a dual project between the Department of Physics and Department of Chemistry.