Highlights:

Dong Wang recieves 2018 Sargent Award for Visiting Scholars at the Arnold Arboretum

Dong Wang was recently awarded one of two Harvard University Sargent Awards for Visiting Scholars at the Arnold Arboretum. The $5,000 award will help cover research materials and travel expenses to visit the Arnold Arboretum. Dr. Wang hopes to use their extensive array of specimens to investigate the molecular-level strategies of rhizobial interaction among woody nitrogen-fixing plants.

Dong Wang awarded Lilly Fellowship for Teaching Excellence

Dong Wang is one of eight UMass Amherst faculty named the 2018-19 Lilly Fellows for Teaching Excellence. The Lilly Fellowship, awarded by the Institute for Teaching Excellence and Faculty Development (TEFD), enables promising junior faculty to cultivate teaching excellence in a special yearlong collaboration.

Alice Cheung receives Samuel F. Conti Faculty Fellowship Award

Alice Cheung was recently named one of three recipients of the 2018-2019 Samuel F. Conti Faculty Fellowship Award. This award gives faculty the opportunity to focus on their research by providing a one-year release from teaching and service duties in addition to a $3,500 cash award. Fellows are chosen based on their record of outstanding accomplishments in research and their potential for continued excellence.

Elizabeth Vierling and colleagues analyze how HSPs evolve using structural principals

A team of researchers, including Distinguished Professor Elizabeth Vierling, published a study in Science magazine about the evolution of small heat shock proteins (HSPs). In studying the assembly and evolution of these small HSPs, Elizabeth and her collaborators looked beyond the compatibility of the two proteins and considered a number of other physical principles.

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.

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