Tag Archive for MB&B

8 Faculty Awarded Tenure

In its recent meeting, the Board of Trustees conferred tenure on eight faculty members, effective July 1, 2015. They are: Associate Professor of Sociology Robyn Autry, Associate Professor of Government Sonali Chakravarti, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Amy MacQueen, Associate Professor of Music Paula Matthusen, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Rich Olson, Associate Professor of Mathematics Christopher Rasmussen, Associate Professor of Economics Damien Sheehan-Connor, and Associate Professor of Classics Eirene Visvardi.

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below:

Associate Professor Autry is a cultural sociologist with broad interests in collective identity, memory, and visual culture. Her research on the ways in which the past is constructed and represented at museums has been published in several journals. Autry’s book, Desegregating the Past: The Public Life of Memory in South Africa and the United States, analyzes clashes around the development of history museums in both countries as a window into the desire for particular personal and collective orientations toward the past (Columbia University Press, forthcoming). She teaches courses on comparative race and ethnicity, the future, and memory and violence.

Hingorani Awarded Major NIH Research Grant

Manju Hingorani, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, was awarded a grant of $408,609 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the structure and mechanisms of DNA repair proteins responsible for fixing errors in the genetic code and preventing carcinogenesis.

The three-year grant will fund PhD and undergraduate students’ research on DNA mismatch repair (MMR). MMR corrects base mismatches and loops in DNA, and is therefore a critical guardian of genetic and cellular integrity. Defects in this essential, evolutionarily conserved DNA repair process cause high levels of mutations in the genome, which in turn lead to cancer. In humans, MMR defects manifest most frequently in a hereditary disorder known as Lynch Syndrome (LS), which substantially raises the risk of colorectal, endometrial and many other cancers.

A large number of MMR defects occur due to small, single-amino-acid changes in the MutS protein that initiates the repair reaction. Hinagorani’s research group has been investigating MMR proteins for the past 15 years. The group now has a detailed enough understanding of the MutS biochemical mechanism to determine how changing single amino acids affects MutS structure and function enough to disrupt MMR. In addition to experimental research, the project also builds on computational modeling done in collaboration with Joshua Boger University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics David Beveridge’s group in the Chemistry Department, and Professor Saraswathi Vishveshwara’s group at the the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India. Beverage is also professor of chemistry. The researchers hope that by applying biochemical, biophysical and computational approaches in an interdisciplinary manner, students will gain new knowledge about MutS function and, thereby, a better understanding of the basis for its malfunction in cancer.

Olson Expert on X-ray Crystallography, Membrane Proteins

Rich Olson, assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, is teaching a class on membrane properties, structural techniques and protein structure analysis.

Rich Olson, assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, is teaching a class on membrane properties, structural techniques and protein structure analysis.

Rich Olson joined the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry as an assistant professor.

Olson is an expert on X-ray crystallography and biophysical characterization of soluble/membrane proteins. He specifically studies the structure and function of membrane proteins in the nervous system, immunological molecules in the nervous system and structural biology of pathogen virulence factors.

This semester, he is teaching a course titled “Receptors, Channels, and Pumps: Advanced Topics in Membrane Protein Structure and Function,” and an individual undergraduate research tutorial.

When applying to Wesleyan, Olson says he was looking for an institution that would provide a balance between teaching and research.

“Wesleyan has a tradition of strong undergraduate education as well as a vibrant graduate program essential to supporting my research,” Olson says. “Having the graduate program allows me to tackle advanced research

NSF Supports Lane’s Research on Olfactory Receptor Gene Regulation

Robert Lane, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, is researching a a complex odorant receptor gene regulatory system. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Robert Lane, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, is researching an odorant receptor gene regulatory system. (Photo by Olivia Bartlett Drake)

In order for animals to detect food sources, avoid predators and find mates, they rely on their olfactory system, or sense of smell.

The ability to detect and distinguish among thousands of environmental odorants is based on a combinatorial recognition system. A specific smell is coded in the brain by a specific combination of receptor proteins that get stimulated by the unique combination of odorant chemicals elicited by that scent.

“The smell of ‘lemons,’ for example, would result from a specific combination of odorant receptor proteins that become stimulated upon binding the specific set of inhaled chemicals emitted from a lemon,” explains Robert Lane, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Lane will further investigate a complex odorant receptor gene regulatory system. His study, titled “Cross-Disciplinary Science & Investigation of Olfactory Receptor Gene Regulation” was funded with a two-year, $299,995 NSF grant

MacQueen Awarded $746,997 NIH Grant

Amy MacQueen, assistant professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, received a $746,997 grant from the national Institute of Health for her research titled “Regulation of Synaptonemal Complex Assembly During Meiosis in S. cerevisiae.” The grant, awarded Aug. 21, will be applied over three years.

NSF Funds Lane’s Research on Gene Regulation

Robert Lane, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, received a grant from the National Science Foundation/American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for this research titled “Cross-Disciplinary Science & Investigation of Olfactory Receptor Gene Regulation.” The award, worth $299,955 will be distributed over two years.

Mukerji Awarded NSF Funding for Her DNA Research

Ishita Mukerji, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, uses a UV resonance Raman spectrometer to measure molecular vibrations. She examines the structure of DNA, to understand how protein modulation of the structure can lead to tumors and other diseases.

Ishita Mukerji, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, uses a UV resonance Raman spectrometer to measure molecular vibrations. She examines the structure of DNA, to understand how protein modulation of the structure can lead to tumors and other diseases.

Errors in genomic DNA can lead to tumors and other diseases. By probing specific DNA structures, Ishita Mukerji hopes to gain an understanding of how such medical conditions can be prevented or possibly cured.

Mukerji, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, studies how different proteins recognize and bind to DNA. Specifically, she examines four-stranded DNA structures, known as “Holliday junctions,” which are involved in DNA repair and recombination. These are different from the common, two-stranded DNA.

On April 1, Mukerji will receive a four-year grant worth $798,368 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund her research project, “Structure and Function of Holliday Junctions Complexed With Proteins Probed by Fluorescence and UV Raman Spectroscopic Methods.”

“Both DNA repair and recombination are vital functions of the cell, which are needed to maintaining a stable and active genome,” Mukerji explains. “Our goal is to study the structure of the junctions and how that relates to their function.”

Holliday junction structures can be changed by protein binding. Mukerji will examine how these structures are altered by proteins that are known to be involved in repair and recombination and are known to bind to junctions.

“These studies address the overall mechanism of how DNA recombination occurs in the cell and the function of these proteins,” she says.

Chemistry graduate students Andrew Moreno and Jon King, MBB graduate student Yan Li and molecular biology and biochemistry major Olga Buzovetsky ’10, will assist Mukerji with the ongoing research.

Two different methods are used to study the DNA interactions: fluorescence spectroscopy and a laser technique, UV resonance Raman spectroscopy. By using the fluorescence method, the Mukerji group can examine and compare the structure of the junction and the protein-binding sites. By using the Raman technique, which examines molecular vibrations, they can probe protein and ion binding sites.

Wesleyan’s Chemistry Department and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department own several fluorescence spectrometers, and Mukerji has built her own, specialized UV resonance Raman spectrometer.

Most of the proposed research will be completed in Mukerji’s lab, although some computational studies will be done in collaboration with David Beveridge, the University Professor of the Sciences and mathematics, professor of chemistry. She is also collaborating with the Hingorani lab (MBB department) to study how proteins involved in mismatch repair and meiotic recombination bind to Holliday junctions. One set of experiments will be conducted at SUNY Buffalo.

The group will also examine how the protein-junction complex either facilitates or suppresses certain processes.

“One theory that we have is that the proteins we are studying suppress recombination as a means of preserving or maintaining the genome.” Mukerji says. “This is an idea that will be tested with the proposed experiments.”