January 2011

Undergraduates receive ASBMB support for summer research projects

This past summer, eight undergraduate students from six colleges and universities were awarded Undergraduate Research Awards from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Undergraduate Affiliate Network. Here, the students relate some of their experiences and what they learned.

Mary Alleman and Giuseppi Staltari from Duquesne University.

This past summer, eight undergraduate students from six colleges and universities were awarded Undergraduate Research Awards from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Undergraduate Affiliate Network. This is the second year that Undergraduate Research Awards have been offered by the UAN. Unlike some programs, such as the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates, where students travel to large research universities, most of the UAN-supported projects were conducted at smaller institutions.

The student awardees and their projects are as follows:
• Mike Milligan (University of Michigan-Dearborn): Expression of affinity-tagged riboflavin binding protein to examine copper binding at the protein’s active site
• Matt King and Hillary Turner (Missouri Western State University): Kinetic studies of albumin esterase activity
 Ray Romano (Marymount Manhattan College): Insulin production in cells undergoing differentiation
• Kevin Stebbings (Duquesne University): Generation of  anti-malarial peptides by proteolysis
• Kelsey Tyssowski (Wesleyan University): Expression and purification of G-protein coupled receptors for ligand binding screening and crystallization
• Giuseppe Staltari (Duquesne University): Examination of cytosine methylation and gene silencing in maize
• James McDermott (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse): Hemolysin A as a model for protein folding during template-assisted hemolysis.

To apply for the Undergraduate Research Awards, the students submitted research proposals that detailed plans for projects to be conducted during the summer with guidance and supervision by an ASBMB faculty sponsor. Applications were reviewed and ranked by a panel of UAN regional directors. Awardees received $1,000 for supplies, equipment or reagents to support their projects and will present their results at the ASBMB annual meeting in Washington, D.C. this spring.  During the meeting, they also will compete in the Undergraduate Poster Competition.

Several of the student researchers included comments on the impact of their research experiences in their progress reports to the UAN:

“I have learned that research is usually a long process that requires persistence and accuracy in order to make progress. The experience was invaluable because, until I actually started research, I couldn’t have appreciated the hard work that goes into every breakthrough.”
– Mike Milligan

Kelsey Tyssowski from Wesleyan University.

“Long days in the laboratory helped me to improve my work efficiency and multi-tasking skills. It is exciting to look back on all of the work we have accomplished this summer, and I am thankful for having been given this opportunity to be a part of it.”
– Hillary Turner

“I had the time to research techniques and protocols and be fully engaged in research in ways that are not possible during the academic year. This experience has helped me to confirm my decision to attend graduate school in science.”
– Kevin Stebbings

“The research process is long and arduous. It requires precision, an attention to detail and patience. The research process is very rewarding as experimental results are compiled and a picture develops.”
– James McDermott

“I have developed a great relationship with my mentor who has helped me pursue any idea that I have. The opportunity afforded me by this grant made me become a true member of the scientific community.”
– Ray Ramano

To apply for an Undergraduate Research Award for the upcoming summer, students should submit a project description and budget along with an application form and a letter of support from an ASBMB faculty sponsor. Applications are due March 15 and should to be sent to the student’s regional UAN director or to the ASBMB office. Complete instructions for submitting project proposals, along with a list of award and scholarship opportunities for undergraduates, can be found on the ASBMB website.

As is typical in research, students faced a variety of challenges, from issues related to protein purification to instrumental difficulties. When the centrifuge at Missouri Western broke down early in the summer, Matt King and Hillary Turner were forced to alter their original research plan completely. They submitted an alternate proposal to the UAN and moved forward from there. King said, “I was disappointed that we had to discontinue the first project, but the esterase experiments that replaced it were just as interesting.”

Faculty advisers also praised their students’ efforts. Rich Olson’s (Wesleyan University) comments echoed the majority of remarks from faculty advisers: “This past year, Kelsey has worked very hard, and, due to her maturity and ambitious nature, I sometimes forget that she is only an undergraduate and not a graduate student. I look forward to seeing her realize her goals and develop her interests in science.”

Ben Caldwell (caldwell@missouriwestern.edu) is a professor of chemistry and chairman of the department of chemistry at Missouri Western State University. He also is a regional director of the Undergraduate Affiliate Network.

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