Tag Archive for Mukerji

Mukerji, Oliver Co-Author Study in PNAS on Basic Cell Function

In this illustration, SecA is shown in light gray and the SecYEG complex is in dark gray. The rainbow colored portion of SecA is the two helix finger. n cyan is a model of the hairpin.

In this illustration, the hairpin is highlighted in cyan. The hairpin is formed by the initiator part of a protein.

All cells — bacterial or human — secrete up to 10 or 20 percent of the proteins that they make. Human secreted proteins, for example, include components of serum, hormones, growth factors that promote cell development during embryogenesis and tissue remodeling, and proteins that provide the basis for immune cell signaling during infection or when fighting cancer.

The secretion process, however, isn’t an easy feat for cells, as they need to move the proteins across a membrane through a channel. Transport requires the formation of a hairpin, formed by an initiator protein.

In a recent study, Don Oliver, the Daniel Ayres Professor of Biology, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, explain the importance of where and why hairpins form and how they help proteins move across the cell.

The study, titled “Alignment of the protein substrate hairpin along the SecA two-helix finger primes protein transport in Escherichia coli,” brings together key areas of membrane biochemistry, structural biology and molecular biophysics, and has innovative applications of molecular genetics and fluorescence spectroscopy. It was published in the Aug. 7 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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,

Wesleyan Faculty Teach Local Girls about Science

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Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, shows Girls in Science Summer Camp participant Sophie how to filter strawberry DNA on Aug. 2.  (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Wesleyan’s Green Street Teaching and Learning Center hosted the 2016 Girls in Science Summer Camp for 4th, 5th, and 6th grade girls Aug. 1-5. Campers were exposed to a variety of careers in science and learned how to use scientific tools like lab notebooks, pipets, and microscopes.

Four female Wesleyan faculty—Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry; Candice Etson, assistant professor of physics; Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry, associate professor of environmental studies; and Michelle Personick, assistant professor of chemistry—led a series of hands-on experiments with the campers. Sara MacSorley, director of the GSTLC, coordinated the activities.

Mukerji taught the campers about DNA by extracting DNA from strawberries. Students also built a large DNA model and created a secret message using DNA code.

Etson taught the campers about light, color, energy, light refraction, lenses and prisms, and electronics. The girls built their own electric motors, studied solar power, and learned the difference between incandescent and LED light bulbs.

Taylor and graduate student Mackenzie Schlosser taught the campers about parts of a cell, germs, and good and bad bacteria, and had campers test various areas of the Green Street Teaching & Learning Center for bacteria.

Personick taught viscosity by racing different fluids, such as chocolate sauce, corn oil, ketchup, soap, and glue, to see which flows best. The campers also learned about the different phases of matter.

“The girls were very surprised to see that ketchup flows slower than glue, and we talked about non-Newtonian fluids to explain that observation,” Personick said.

Personick also had the campers make bouncy balls by cross-linking a polymer (glue) with Borax; tested the properties (magnetism, conductivity, density, flexibility) of different metals to learn about what properties metals have in common and which properties depend on the shape/size of the piece of metal; and created silver nanoparticles in a rainbow of colors and then used silver and gold nanoparticles to make stained glass. On Aug. 5, the campers used what they learned about viscosity to make bubbles.

Students also made and ate liquid nitrogen ice cream to study phase changes in cooking, and talked about how cooking is science in the kitchen.

The Girls in Science Camp is supported by the Petit Family Foundation.

Photos of the Girls in Science Camp are below:

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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.

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.

5 Faculty Receive Endowed Professorships

In recognition of their career achievements, five faculty members are being appointed to endowed professorships, effective July 1:

Stephen Angle, professor of philosophy and East Asian studies, is receiving the Mansfield Freeman Professorship in East Asian Studies, established in 1986.

Lisa Cohen, associate professor of English, is receiving the Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Chair. The Bennet Chair, endowed in 2007, is awarded for a five-year term to a newly tenured associate professor exhibiting exceptional achievement and evidence of future promise.

Andrew Curran, professor of French and outgoing Dean of Arts and Humanities, is receiving the William Armstrong Professorship of the Humanities, established in 1921.

Lori Gruen, professor of philosophy, environmental studies, and feminist, gender and sexuality studies, is receiving the William Griffin Professorship of Philosophy, established in 1885.

Ishita Mukerji, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry and outgoing Dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and director of technology initiatives, is receiving the Fisk Professorship of Natural Science, established in 1839.

Mukerji Represents Wesleyan at National STEM Meeting

Ishita Mukerji

Ishita Mukerji

Ishita Mukerji, dean of natural sciences and mathematics and director of technology initiatives, represented Wesleyan at a White House-sponsored conference of STEM educators Sept. 16.

Mukerji said she was intrigued by other universities’ approaches to increase access to science, technology, engineering and math – and happy to share Wesleyan’s STEM initiatives with her counterparts.

“It was a great opportunity to learn about what works and compare with what we are doing,” said Mukerji, who also is professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.”I was happy to see that in many instances, we were on the right track and have some of the key elements in place.”

The conference was a followup to a January meeting at the White House, attended by President Michael Roth and about 100 other leaders in higher education. That gathering, part of the White House College Opportunity initiative, asked the leaders how their institutions were increasing access. Wesleyan’s commitment to opening access in STEM fields

Students, Faculty Host DNA Workshop for Area Children

Wesleyan students and faculty participated in a Minds in Motion event at Snow Elementary School on March 8. Ishita Mukerji, dean of the Natural Sciences and mathematics Division, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, hosted a DNA workshop with nine middle school students.

Wesleyan students and faculty participated in a Minds in Motion event at Snow Elementary School on March 8. Ishita Mukerji (not pictured), dean of the Natural Sciences and mathematics Division, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, hosted a DNA workshop with nine middle school students.

Mukerji Elected to Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering

Ishita Mukerji

Ishita Mukerji

Ishita Mukerji, dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics division, is one of 50 local scientists to be elected to the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering. Mukerji also is professor of molecular biology and biochemistry and is an expert on fluorescence and vibrational spectroscopy.

Mukerji is the 10th Wesleyan faculty to be elected into the academy. She will be introduced at CASE’s 39th annual meeting and dinner on June 5 at the Crowne Plaza in Cromwell, Conn.

Election to the Academy is on the basis of scientific and engineering distinction achieved through significant contributions in theory or applications, as demonstrated by original published books and papers, patents, the pioneering of new and developing fields and innovative products, outstanding leadership of nationally recognized technical teams, and external professional awards in recognition of scientific and engineering excellence.

“I’m thrilled and honored to join the academy! This is a great recognition of the hard work my research group, consisting of undergraduates, graduate students and post-docs have put in over the years and the strong support that Wesleyan gives to scientific research. This type of recognition really underscores the excellence of the sciences at Wesleyan and the scholar-teacher model that we embrace,” Mukerji said. “I look forward to working and networking with other scientists throughout the state and helping the academy do it’s work to advise the people and government of Connecticut on scientific issues.”

Mukerji’s research interests focus on the use of spectroscopic tools to investigate challenging problems in biology

Mukerji Receives NSF Grant for Holliday Junctions Study

Ishita Mukerji, dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics division, and professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, has received a $6,750 National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates supplement to enhance her current grant supporting research, “Structure and Function of Holliday Junctions Complexed With Proteins Probed by Fluorescence and UV Raman Spectroscopic Methods.”

Mukerji’s Study on Protein Binding Published in Biochemistry

Ishita Mukerji, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, director of graduate studies, is the co-author of ““HU Binding to a DNA Four-Way Junction Probed by Förster Resonance Energy Transfer,” published in Biochemistry, issue 50, pages 1432–1441, 2011. This work specifically examines the Escherichia coli protein HU’s four-way junction interaction using fluorescence spectroscopic methods.

This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation.