Highlights:

11 Seniors Earn Certification on American Society for Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Exam

As an undergraduate program accredited by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), UMass BMB can offer its majors the opportunity to take the ASBMB Certification Exam, which is given in the spring each year and assesses core competencies in BMB. Of the more than 900 undergraduates at 75 ASBMB-accredited programs who took the exam in 2021, 38.3% earned certification, and 12.6% of the total earned certification with distinction. Overall, 11 BMB students who took the exam this year scored high enough to earn certification, and 6 of these students earned the additional honor of certification with distinction. We congratulate these students on their accomplishment!

Amy Springer receives $500,000 NSF grant to expand CUREs program

BMB Lecturer and Chief Undergraduate Advisor Amy Springer has received a five-year $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to expand course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) in colleges and universities across the United States. The CUREs program emphasizes support for under-resourced and/or minority populations who are historically underrepresented in STEM fields. Undergraduates engaged in scientific research report a higher likelihood of persistence in STEM and greater sense of independence, says Springer. UMass BMB has already converted all three biochemistry lab courses (introductory and advanced, for majors and non-majors) to the CUREs format.

BMB Emeritus Professor Edward Westhead dies at age 90

Distinguished biochemist Edward W. Westhead, emeritus professor of the biochemistry and molecular biology department at UMass Amherst, succumbed to cancer on June 1, 2021 at the age of 90. UMass Amherst recruited Westhead in 1966 to form a new department of biochemistry, and he later became the first director of the UMass Amherst molecular and cellular biology PhD program in 1988. Westhead worked to discover the structure and function relationships of the enzyme enolase, which plays a role in energy metabolism, and he studied the activity of chromaffin cells, known for their role in the fight-or-flight response, to determine the mechanisms of cell loading and secretion. He continued to follow developments in his field even after retirement and made it a point to stay connected with former students his entire life.

A celebration of Westhead's life will be planned for 2022. Contact victoria@levy-westhead.com or evelyn.westhead1@gmail.com if you wish to be notified of the date.

Gerald Downes (Bio) and ChangHui Pak (BMB) receive Armstrong Fund for Science Award

Biology Associate Professor Gerald Downes and BMB Assistant Professor ChangHui Pak received the 2021 Armstrong Fund for Science Award for their collaborative project that seeks to better understand how mutation of a gene known as TBCK disrupts brain development. Mutations in the TBCK gene cause a rare, severe, poorly understood neurological disease called TBCK Syndrome. Downes and Pak will receive a two-year, $40,000 grant to support preliminary investigations in preparation for a full-blown research effort, combining Gerald's work with zebrafish and ChangHui's experience using human-induced pluripotent stem cells.

ChangHui Pak continues research with $2.25 million grant

BMB Assistant Professor ChangHui Pak recently published her research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), showing how a rare, single-gene mutation impairs the release of neurotransmitters in the brains of patients with schizophrenia. Samples of cell specimens from schizophrenia patients with the same genetic variant – the deletion of neurexin 1 (NRXN1) – were found to have a major decrease in neurotransmitter release and synaptic signaling. While this mutation is known to predispose people to a range of neurodevelopmental disorders, Dr. Pak’s research provides insight into what cellular pathways are perturbed among people with schizophrenia to help narrow the search for the root cause of the disease. The Pak Lab plans to continue this research, supported by a five-year, $2.25 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Faculty members receive grant to continue plant reproduction research

BMB Professor Alice Cheung and BMB Research Professor Hen-Min Wu have received a four-year, $950,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support their long-standing research in plant reproduction. The project culminates from their long-term effort in dissecting the mechanism of male-female interactions that underlie reproductive success. The most recent of these efforts is published in a pair of complementary papers, one in Science from March 2021 and the other in Current Biology from May 2021. Professor Cheung says that the fundamental studies in male-female interactions are crucial for ensuring the success of the agriculturally important process of seed production.

Spring 2021 UMass Rising Researcher

Eugenia Roberts, a recent BMB alumna, was named as a UMass Rising Researcher for the Spring 2021 semester. Eugenia was only 17 when she came to UMass Amherst from her home country of Nicaragua. Working with Sloan Siegrist, assistant professor of microbiology, Eugenia has developed a new, much faster way to detect bacterial bloodstream infections. Last fall, the technology received a $100,000 seed grant from the UMass Amherst Manning/IALS Innovation Awards program.

Anna MacManus (BMB Class of 2021) receives Fulbright Scholarship

Anna MacManus, now a BMB aluma, has received the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship which provides grants to students to travel abroad as English teaching assistants or to perform research projects they designed.  Anna will use the scholarship to travel to Germany for research in Dr. Franziska Knopf’s lab at the Center for Regenerative Therapies in Dresden, screening a drug laboratory to find compounds that reduce the metastasis of breast cancer to the bone, using zebrafish as a model system. The opportunity will provide important lab experience to MacManus before she starts her graduate studies in biomedical sciences at Vanderbilt University in fall 2022.

Graduating seniors honored as 21st Century leaders

Two BMB seniors will be honored as 21st Century Leaders during Undergraduate Commencement. This award honors the exemplary achievement, initiative, and leadership of some of its most talented and accomplished graduating seniors. AnnMarie Marquis, a BMB and BDIC double major in CHC, is a firefighter and EMT for the Amherst Fire Department’s Student Force. Her self-designed thesis research in immuno-engineering focuses on reprogramming immune cells to prevent tumor progression in cancer, and she plans to continue her education in healthcare, science and engineering. Hannah Guard, a BMB and Public Health double major in CHC, is an executive board member of Students to End Alzheimer’s Disease. Her research explores the relationship between bisphenol A (BPA), an environmental chemical, and inflammatory makers in breast milk of nursing mothers, and she will begin the master’s program in epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health next fall. 

Lila M. Gierasch named as inaugural fellow of ASBMB

BMB Distinguished Professor Lila M. Gierasch was recently named one of the inaugural fellows of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). The fellowship recognizes members who have made outstanding contributions to the field through their research, teaching and mentoring, or other forms of service. Lila has been a member of ASBMB since 1981, authoring more than 250 papers and mentoring scores of students in that time. She has also served as the editor-in-chief of the “Journal of Biological Chemistry” since 2016.

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