Highlights:

Tricia Serio discovers breakthrough for curing fatal diseases caused by prions

Daniela Molina Palacios (BMB Class of 2020) honored as a 21st Century Leader

Daniela Molina Palacios, a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology student and a member of the Commonwealth Honors College, is one of ten graduating seniors who have been selected as 21st Century Leaders. This honor is given to seniors who exhibit exemplary achievement, initiative, and leadership. A native of Venezuela, Daniela participated in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) COVID-19 Challenge in April assisting with UbiquiTest, a virtual platform that can advise healthcare professionals and companies on which populations can benefit from group testing. She’s also worked as a summer research intern at MIT and in the lab of Professor John Stoffolano, with whom she did her honors thesis. She has been a teaching assistant, a resident assistant, and an academic peer advisor over the course of her time at UMass. Palacios’s leadership extended to projects off campus as well, where she served as a tutor for Eureka! Girls Inc. in Holyoke. Her future plans include working as a research associate at MIT and eventually pursuing a Ph.D.

Two BMB undergrads named Rising Researchers

Two seniors in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Dept were named Rising Researchers by Research Next at UMass Amherst. Colin Lemire is a member of Sibongile Mafu’s lab, focusing on the biosynthesis of natural products (plants and fungi) to better understand their metabolic pathways to enable future research into their function and potential pharmaceutical applications. Joseph McGaunn works in Alexander Suvorov’s lab, where he investigates the role of molecular mechanisms in mediating interactions between an individual’s genetics and their environment, in transferring non-genetic information from one generation to the next, and the clinical applications for such mechanisms. The Rising Researcher program recognizes UMass Amherst undergraduate students who excel in research, scholarship and creative activity.

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.

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