Lila M. Gierasch wins Ralph F. Hirschmann Award in Peptide Chemistry

Distinguished Professor Lila M. Gierasch will recieve the 2018 Ralph F. Hirschmann Award at the American Chemical Society meeting in March for her "seminal contributions to peptide structure and function, peptide models for protein folding and function, and roles of peptide and protein aggregation in disease" [from C&EN]. Dr. Gierasch is only the second woman to win the award since it was established in 1988.

Alice Cheung, Hen-Ming Wu, and collaborators at Peking University identify receptors in plants

Alice Cheung and Hen-Ming Wu, along with Li-Jia Qu and Hongya Gu from Peking University in China, published a paper in Science entitled Arabidopsis pollen tube integrity and sperm release are regulated by RALF-mediated signaling. Cheung and Wu study how pollen tubes and pistils, the male and female parts of flowers, communicate to achieve fertilization in plants. Along with their collaborators in China and around the world, they have identified a pair of receptors essential to these communications as well as molecules that modulate the receptors’ activity.

Bryan Monesson-Olson uses 3D printed models to make science more accessible

Bryan Monesson-Olson teamed-up with Dennis Spencer of the Digital Media Lab and Kelsey Hall of the Assistive Technology Center to create 3D printed models of DNA molecules. They believe that these models will make science more engaging and accessible for a wide array of learners (blind/low vision, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, etc). The team was able to present their work at the World Usability Day New England conference at the Univeristy of Connecticuit on Novermber 9th - take a look at their presentation!

Sergey Savinov and Alejandro Heuck publish study on cholesterol-dependent cytolysins

Cholesterol-dependent cytolysins (CDCs) constitute a family of pore-forming toxins secreted by various human bacterial pathogens, responsible for a number of serious afflictions. Understanding the mechanism of cholesterol binding is important to block the lethal action of these toxins and to develop biosensors that would allow monitoring of cholesterol transport in cells, an essential process linked to atherosclerosis, stroke, and several other human diseases. In the absence of high-resolution structural information, UMass researchers Sergey Savinov and Alejandro Heuck used available site-directed mutagenesis data combined with binding studies with a panel of structurally distinct sterols to construct a molecular model for the interaction of these toxins with cholesterol. This model offers new testable insights into how the toxin recognizes cholesterol and will guide the development of new anti-toxin agents and superior cholesterol biosensors.

Peter Tao (BMB Class of 2018) successful at Innovation Challenge: The Minute Pitch

Peter Tao won big in the Minute Pitch, the first round of the Innovation Challenge competition hosted by the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship at the Isenberg School of Management. Tao was part of a team that pitched Easy Lock, facial-recognition software that would replace the use of keys for cars, homes, or offices; the idea took both first-place honors and the audience choice award. Catch some of Tao's pitch in this video from the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship.

Alejandro Heuck publishes a study on cholesterol accessibility

Cholesterol is essential for the viability of mammalian cells and accordingly, the amount of cholesterol in cell membranes is tightly controlled via vesicular and non-vesicular transport. Small variations in cholesterol content or in the phospholipid composition of the membrane could trigger sharp changes in “cholesterol accessibility” at the membrane surface. The Heuck lab's pioneer work with Perfringolysin O (PFO) has shown that it is a good reporter of cholesterol exposure at the membrane surface. In the work published this week in the Springer Nature journal Scientific Reports, the Heuck lab developed a non-lytic PFO derivative and used it to study cholesterol accessibility on live cells. They identified modifications that increased or decreased the affinity of PFO for accessible cholesterol. Using these PFO-based biosensors they found that cholesterol accessibility at the plasma membrane of live cells was maintained constant when the overall cholesterol concentration was varied. These findings reveal important insights into the mechanism of PFO membrane-recognition and on engineered non-lytic PFO derivatives to study cholesterol accessibility on live cells.

Ludmila Tyler brings dragon-breeding to BMB with a new course

Although dragons are exciting, they are dangerous and expensive to house in a laboratory setting.  Therefore, to investigate the genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying various (dragon) phenotypes, Biochem 390G students breed research-tractable cousins of dragons, called drakes, in the interactive, computer-based gaming environment of Geniverse.  Developed by the non-profit Concord Consortium, Geniverse allows students to conduct drake breeding experiments, analyze the data, and propose hypotheses to explain the results.  A Gene-to-Protein Genie illustrates the transcription of DNA and translation of RNA for relevant genes.  Overall, the course spans fundamental Mendelian genetics, epigenetics, genetic engineering, and genome editing.  Additionally, students in an Honors section of Biochem 390 utilize bioinformatics tools to build new drake genes, mutant alleles, and phenotypes based on investigations of the scientific literature.  Honors students have, for example, created drakes whose genotypes give rise to deafness and dwarfism, cancer and cold tolerance, polydactyly, and the ability to spit spider silk.  Emerita Professor Molly Fitzgerald-Hayes and Ludmila Tyler built the course, with input from Dr. Frieda Reichsman of The Concord Consortium.  Biochem 390G(HH) is taught by Dr. Tyler and was offered for the second time this spring.  This summer, Dr. Tyler presented a poster on students’ work and learning gains at the Plant Biology 2017 conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.    

Dave Gross suggests that students in more diverse TBL groups perform no better than others

Literature on team-based learning emphasizes the importance of team composition and team design and it recommends that instructors organize teams to ensure diversity of team members for optimal team performance. But does the method of team formation actually impact student performance? Sarah Pociask and Mei-Yau Shih of the Institute for Teaching Excellence and Faculty Development, and David Gross from UMass Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, found that teams designed by the course instructor were more diverse, but that students in these teams performed no better than their peers in self-selected or randomly assigned teams.

High School Students Complete BMB’s Summer Program on GMOs

For the second consecutive summer, BMB faculty members Becky Miller and Ludmila Tyler led a week-long course, Investigating Genetic Engineering and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), in the BMB teaching labs.  The course is offered through the UMass Summer Pre-College Program, which gives high school students the opportunity to join faculty in exploring a topic of mutual interest in a college setting.  This year, twenty-four high school students, most from around New England, participated in the Genetic Engineering laboratory experience.  One student was supported by a partial scholarship from the BMB Department.  During the course, students learned techniques such as DNA extraction, cloning, bacterial transformation, agarose gel electrophoresis, and PCR.  The students performed experiments to determine the presence of transgenes in different foods, discussed the role of GMOs in research and agriculture, and finished the week with a presentation of their findings.  Having been impressed with the participants’ preparation, engagement, and curiosity, Dr. Miller and Dr. Tyler are looking forward to offering the course again in the summer of 2018. 

Elizabeth Vierling discovers a mechanism of heat tolerance in plants

Elizabeth Vierling and colleagues, in a new publication in The Plant Cell, have discovered an important mechanism that plants require in order to recover from heat stress. High temperature damage to crops is increasing, and understanding mechanisms of heat tolerance is key to ultimately preventing such damage. The new research shows that rapid recovery of protein synthesis after stress is critical, as a delay of even a few hours can compromise plant survival. The work also shows the importance of collaborative research, as Vierling worked with both Chinese and Indian scientists in the study.


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