Highlights:

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 publishes research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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.

Alice Cheung and Hen-Ming Wu receive NSF grant on top of two big publications

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.

Eugenia Roberts (BMB Class of 2021) named 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.

AnnMarie Marquis and Hannah Guard (Class of 2021) named 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.

BMB faculty and staff accepted as Inclusive Excellence Fellows

Two groups of BMB faculty and staff were accepted as Inclusive Excellence (IE) Fellows for the 2021-2022 academic year. This fellowship supports faculty and staff leaders in the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) to implement projects that foster the inclusion of all undergraduate students in CNS.

A group of lecturers from three CNS departments, including BMB, will use this fellowship to gain a deeper understanding of growth mindset and its relationship to diversity and equity in higher education. Their goal is to develop an introductory class module on addressing misconceptions surrounding fixed notions of intelligence that can be shared with instructors throughout CNS to increase a sense of student belonging and support student success.

The BMB Advising Team will use this fellowship to help grow a student mentoring program aimed at addressing feelings of disconnect and imposter syndrome among students in the major, as well as providing support for students’ academic concerns. This program will not only increase support for first and second year students, but will also provide mentoring experience for third and fourth year students and increase connections among students who have had a predominantly virtual college experience.

Amy Springer receives Normanly Award for Outstanding Service

Amy Springer, BMB Lecturer and Chief Undergraduate Advisor, has been named this year’s recipient of the Normanly Award for Outstanding Service. This award recognizes her outstanding undergraduate advising and her leadership in developing, proposing and overseeing academic policies that are geared toward timely graduation from a rigorous undergraduate program that is accredited by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). The Normanly Award for Outstanding Service was established in 2017 to recognize exemplary teaching and service by BMB faculty.

Cheung Lab publishes pollination research in Science

Researchers from the Cheung lab just had their research published in Science. The paper, titled “Pollen PCP-B peptides unlock a stigma peptide-receptor kinase gating mechanism for pollination”, describes the role that POLLEN COAT PROTEIN B-class peptides play in the pollination process. Over the years, the Cheung lab has teased apart molecular mechanisms underlying the communications between the pollen and pistil; this research provides another piece of the puzzle. The paper was built upon foundational work carried out by a BMB alum and MS student, David Vyshedsky, a coauthor of the paper, and later completed in collaboration with a former postdoc, Chao Li, and students in her own laboratory. David is now finishing up medical school; Chao is a professor in China.

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