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Highlights:

Alice Cheung receives 2020 Lawrence Bogorad Award for Excellence in Plant Biology Research

The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) recently announced that BMB Professor Alice Cheung will receive the 2020 Lawrence Bogorad Award for Excellence in Plant Biology Research, made every other year to “a plant scientist whose work both illuminates the present and suggests paths to enlighten the future.” The award is named for Bogorad, Cheung’s postdoctoral mentor, for his contributions to plant biology that include bringing molecular biology techniques to bear on plant biology, groundbreaking research on chloroplast genetics, biogenesis, structure and function, and inspired teaching and mentoring. Along with the society’s international recognition, Cheung will receive a plaque and monetary award.

Peter Chien named an American Academy of Microbiology Fellow

The American Academy of Microbiology (AAM) recently honored BMB Professor Peter Chien by naming him to the 2020 class of Fellows of the Academy based on his record of “scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced microbiology.” The AAM is the honored leadership group within the American Society of Microbiology (ASM), one of the oldest and largest scientific societies in the world.

Alice Cheung's publication in Nature explains how FERONIA helps plants avoid polyspermy

BMB Professor Alice Cheung is the senior author of a recent paper in Nature describing her team's discoveries surrounding FERONIA and how it helps flowering plants avoid polyspermy. Their research shows that FERONIA interacts with a sugar polymer called pectin to change the permeability of the cell wall and to trigger the presence of nitic oxide, both of which help deter sperm from entering the egg once it has been fertalized. Preventing polyspermy raises the chances of more females being fertilized and ensures better seed yields. 

UMass BMB awarded full accreditation from ASBMB

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) recently awarded full accreditation to the UMass Amherst biochemistry and molecular biology B.S. degree. UMass Amherst is the only public institution in Massachusetts with an ASBMB-accredited B.S. program, and one of five top public Research 1 institutions nationwide with this accreditation. Students who graduate from an ASBMB-accredited program have the opportunity to take an assessment (exam) to have their degree certified by ASBMB, showing prospective graduate schools and potential employers that the students have met the society’s high academic standards.

BMB undergraduates work with local 8th graders as part of the Girls Inc. Eureka! Program

On Saturday, November 16th, BMB undergraduates Braeden Sagehorn, Nick Ambrosio, Colin Lemire, Saida Gamidova, Daniela Molina Palacios, Shannon Silva, and Aurora O'Connor participated in the department’s biannual Eureka Saturday workshop. With support from administrative and lab instructional staff, our students taught eighteen 8th grade girls, called “Rookies” in the program, the fundamentals of micropipetting, DNA extraction, and ratios and measuring. This workshop is part of a larger project to fortify the pipeline of young girls from Springfield, Holyoke, and Chicopee into STEM disciplines. The Rookies had fun playing with ooblek and strawberry DNA under the mentorship and guidance of our undergraduates. We look forward to seeing the Rookies again in the spring!

BMB students in iCons launch podcast with Lab Society

Students in the UMass iCons program have teamed-up with Lab Society to launch a podcast titled “A Little About A Lot”. Members of the podcast, including BMB majors Joseph McGaunn ‘20, Aurelia Reynolds ‘21, and Andrew Guthrie ‘21, wanted to find a way to make STEM topics more accessible to nonscientific communities. Each episode provides relatable and simplified explanations to different scientific topics with help from various special guests. This project is supported by Lab Society, a laboratory equipment start-up that has everything you need to get your laboratory up and running.

Roman Sloutsky develops a new approach for reconstructing protein evolution

Roman Sloutsky, a postdoc in the Stratton Lab, recently published a paper in eLife describing a new, more accurate way to trace how proteins have diverged over time. Most proteins belong to families that descended from a common ancestor, but trying to reconstruct that genetic divergence from the very beginning is incredibly difficult. Roman and his former advisor decided to use a more recent ancestor with a known-sequence, simulating a series of amino acid substitutions to arrive at a more narrow collection of realistic protein sequences. Scientists use information about the evolution of proteins to design experiments and interpret their findings, so having an accurate idea of a protein’s evolutionary history has a substantial impact on the validity of their experiments.

Samar Mahmoud from the Chein Lab receives HHMI Gilliam Fellowship

Samar Mahmoud, an MCB PhD student in the Chien lab, was recently awarded the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Gilliam Fellowship. These prestigious awards are given to doctoral adviser-student pairs to support young scientific leaders, improve faculty mentoring skills, and foster diversity and inclusion in science. Along with funds for the fellow for stipends and educational costs, the adviser will participate in a year of mentor training. Together, these efforts aim to improve the scientific culture while supporting the next generation of research leaders.

Stratton Lab develops biosensor for CaMKII protein

Researchers from the Stratton Lab in BMB have teamed up with colleagues in Animal Science and Biology to create a biosensor, called FRESCA, that monitors whether the CaMKII protein is on or off. CaMKII is important for long-term memory formation, maintaining heart rhythm, and fertilization. FRESCA (FRET Sensor for CaMKII Activity) changes color when the CaMKII protein turns on, which allows researchers to watch what CaMKII is doing in different cell types under different conditions. Aiding the study of this protein is vital, as mutations in CaMKII can lead to brain dysfunction (such as Alzheimer's Disease and autism), cardiac dysfunction (such as arrhythmia), and infertility.

Pre-college course teaches high school students about the medicinal properties of plants

This year Biology, Biochemistry, and Core Facilities staff, students, and faculty collaborated on the Drug Discovery: Medicinal Properties of Plants course. This 2-week course shared the richness of the Plant Cell Culture Library as both a research and an educational resource with high school students in the UMass Summer Precollege program. This year our enrollment increased from 5 to 11, including several local students, 1 international student, and others from as far away as Texas and California. Students attended faculty lectures, propagated plants at the Morrill Greenhouse, visited research labs, pressed local plant specimens in the herbarium, designed primers, performed DNA extractions, PCR, agarose gel electrophoresis, and a disc diffusion assay, toured the Nourse Farms strawberry propagation center in Whately, designed and printed 3D models of plant metabolites, and presented their findings at a poster session in the Life Science Laboratories Conference Center. We are very proud of what our students have accomplished in 2 weeks and hope to see them on campus again soon. Thank you to all who supported our students' success in this course!

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