Highlights:

Biochem Club hosts Girls, Inc. Eureka! Program

The Biochem Club recently hosted 13 girls from the Girls, Inc. Eureka! program. Eureka! is a five year program for teenage girls, preparing them to participate and excel in STEM careers. During the school year, Eureka! scholars go on field trips one Saturday each month to take part in workshops. With help from Distinguished Professor Elizabeth Vierling and BMB staff members, the Biochem Club provided a workshop to 8th grade girls to teach them about basic lab skills such as pipetting, as well as how to visualize DNA and proteins. These girls were thrilled to put on lab coats and get some real experience at the bench!

Jianhan Chen publishes research on Big Potassium (BK) channels in Nature

Jianhan Chen, Professor in both the Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Chemistry departments, recently published an article in Nature pertaining to the Big Potassium (BK) gating mechanism. While most channel proteins physically close when in a deactivated state, Chen and his lab have shown that BK uses “hydrophobic dewetting” to block potassium passage when the protein is deactivated. This research is supported by Chen’s new four-year, $2.9 million NIH grant.

Pre-college course teaches high school students about plant natural products

BMB hosted five high school students for two weeks this summer as part of a pre-college course centered around the Plant Cell Culture Library (PCCL). This course allowed students to conduct experiments on a cell culture line of their choice made available through the PCCL, which houses over 1,000 plant cell culture lines from species around the world. Students spent time outdoors identifying their plant and collecting live specimens, and then they used the Natural Product Database to identify a molecule produced by their plant of choice and made a model of their molecule using the UMass library 3D printers. They also learned wet lab techniques like DNA extraction, PCR, and agarose gel electrophoresis. At the end of the course, the students discussed their research findings during a poster session attended by faculty members and staff in BMB. The department is planning to expand the course to more students next year.

Jianhan Chen receives grant from the National Science Foundation

Jianhan Chen, Professor in both the Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Chemistry departments, recently recieved a four year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. He plans to use this grant to continue his research on intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) and the role they play in human disease.

BMB faculty forge international collaborations at Shandong Agricultural University

BMB Professor Alice Cheung led a delegation of fellow BMB faculty Dong Wang, Li-Jun Ma and Hen-Ming Wu, and U Texas A&M faculty Professors Ping He and Libo Shan, for a symposium at the Shandong Agricultural University (SDAU) in Tai'an, China hosted by the university President. The symposium featured talks under the theme of biotic interactions in plants, in particular plant-microbe interaction and pollen (male)-pistil (female) interaction, fields that the UMass scientists are known to have made major contributions to. These are also areas of interest shared among the US visiting scientists and faculty from the host institution. Beyond scientific discussions, the delegation was invited for the purpose of forging collaborations in research and student training. In addition to scientific lectures, the two-day symposium also included a meeting with the University's President and faculty to discuss approaches towards collaborative efforts. After the meeting in SDAU, the UMass faculty continued their travels to other institutions. Alice Cheung and Hen-Ming Wu visited Huazhong Agricultural University where they have initiated collaborations with a world’s leading cotton research group headed by the Vice President of the University and Wuhan University where they have long-standing collaborations in plant reproduction biology. Dong Wang gave lectures in Nanjing University where he has on-going collaboration and Hunan University where a former postdoc has just started a faculty position. Li-Jun Ma arrived in China directly after chairing a session in the International Mycology Congress; after the symposium she headed to Boston to chair a section at the International Congress of Plant Protection, and also for discussions with several long time colleagues on their ongoing collaborations.

UMass Amherst and CNS recieve $1 Million HHMI Grant for STEM education

UMass Amherst was recently awarded a five-year, $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to develop course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) that will be available to all first year life science majors. The program is intented help students get excited about STEM early in their undergraduate career and develop the skills necessary to succeed and persist in STEM majors. CNS Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and Development Elizabeth Connor, BMB Department Head and Professor Jennifer Normanly, and Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Director of TEFD Gabriela Weaver worked collaboratively to earn this grant.

2018 BMB Award Ceremony and Senior Celebrations Pictures

Pictures from our Award Ceremony and Senior Celebration are available to view/download. Congratulations to the BMB Class of 2018!

John Maher wins CNS Outstanding Staff Award

John Maher, a Senior Systems and Network Administrator in the BMB and Chemistry departments, recieved an Outstanding Staff Award at the 2018 CNS Outstanding Achievement Awards Ceremony. Recipients are selected based on testimony from their peers regarding their contributions to their discipline, department, college and university.

Heuck Lab publishes new insights on combating pathogenic bacteria

Many pathogenic bacteria that cause life-threatening human diseases like the bubonic plague, pneumonia, and food poisoning, inject toxins into the host to establish infection. Gram-negative bacteria inject toxins using a syringe-like nano-machine known as the Type III Secretion System. The toxins gain access to the target cell through a channel (the type III translocon) on the target cell membrane, formed by two secreted bacterial proteins termed translocators. Formation of this translocon is critical for bacterial infection, and blocking the translocon assembly would interfere with the infection. Therefore, understanding how translocators interact to assemble functional channels is essential for the development of novel therapeutic agents to combat these pathogens.

In the work published this week in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the Heuck lab unveiled new insights on the interaction and assembly mechanisms of the Pseudomonas aeruginosa channel-forming proteins PopB and PopD. Researchers Y. Tang, F. Romano, and M. Brena, led by Prof. Heuck showed that PopB and PopD formed hetero-dimers on lipid membranes, suggesting that an early PopB and PopD interaction is essential for guiding the assembly of the channel. Moreover, they showed that the interaction of PopB with PopD is required to properly insert PopD into the target cell membrane and assemble functional channels.

Jessica Furtado wins Barbara Burn Scholarship and 21st Century Leadership Award

Jessica Furtado, a CHC senior earning a dual-degree in Biochemistry and Public Health, was recently awarded the $1,000 Barbara Burn Scholarship.  Barbara Burn was a longtime Associate Provost for International Programs, and the award is given to UMass Amherst students who are studying abroad and international students studying at UMass Amherst. The award will help Jessica study disease prevention during her five-year doctoral program in biochemstry at Yale University.

Jessica was also named as one of ten 21st Century Leaders in the UMass Class of 2018 and will be honored at University Commencement on Friday, May 11th.

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