Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Research Intensives
Protein Folding, Misfolding & Aggregation
The Gierasch lab can host one student.
The failure of proteins to fold into their functional three-dimensional structures has devastating health consequences. Recent research has established the connections between an increasing array of diseases, and defects in the correct folding, assembly, and maturation of proteins. These diseases include cancer, cystic fibrosis and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The molecular basis of these diseases remains poorly understood, and it is widely agreed that there is a pressing need to better understand the fundamental mechanisms and factors that influence protein homeostasis in the cell. To this end, we are determining the detailed molecular mechanisms of one of the major classes of molecular chaperones, the Hsp70s. Chaperones are proteins that help other proteins to fold. We are also researching the linkages between protein folding, misfolding and aggregation and how molecular chaperones tip the balance towards well-folded, healthy proteins. For more information, see http://www.biochem.umass.edu/faculty/lila-gierasch
Novel Genes in Host-microbe Interactions
The Wang lab can host one student.
Plants and animals frequently engage microbes in mutualistic interactions, some of which have significant impacts on human society and the ecosystem. Because such interactions are complex by nature, we are using one well studied system as an example to probe the molecular mechanisms needed to establish symbiotic relationships in general. Legumes (beans, peas, etc) play hosts to a class of bacteria called rhizobia, which convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into fertilizers for the plant. This nitrogen-fixing symbiosis is of great importance to food, nutrition, energy, and the environment, as well as other implications to human health. Potential projects include discovering novel genes required for this symbiosis, and the effects of specific host proteins on the microbial partner. For more information see http://www.biochem.umass.edu/faculty/dong-wang
How do Hosts Control Beneficial Microbes?
The Gershenson Lab/Wang Lab collaboration can host one student.
Symbiotic bacteria can help organisms acquire nutrients, for example by breaking down food in the human intestinal track and by fixing nitrogen in plant roots. For these relationships to succeed, the host organism must control the number of bacteria, since just a few bacteria will not give the host any advantage and too many can result in infections that damage the host. In this project, we are watching the interactions between the host and bacteria by fluorescently tagging proteins in plant root cells and directly observing their motions and interactions using single molecule fluorescence microscopy.
For more information see http://www.biochem.umass.edu/faculty/dong-wang and http://www.biochem.umass.edu/faculty/anne-gershenson
Engineering Plants for Stress Tolerance
The Vierling lab can host one student.
Plants are captives of their environment. Unlike animals, they can’t move to escape heat or cold or other dangers of their environment. Plants have many mechanisms to sense and respond to the environment to avoid or recover from damaging conditions. Interestingly, individual plant cells respond to environmental stress in many of the same way humans do, so studies of stress responses in plants are relevant even to human disease. Potential projects involve identifying plants with added or removed genes and testing their stress tolerance. Techniques include DNA isolation and polymerase chain reaction. For more information on the lab please see: https://sites.biochem.umass.edu/vierlinglab/
Molecular Mechanisms that Control the Excitability of Neurons
The Chase Lab can host one student.
The Chase lab uses C. elegans as a model organism to understand how neurons communicate with each other to control circuit activity and brain function. We are particularly interested in dopamine, which binds to receptors on the surface of neurons to modulate their excitability. Summer projects include: 1) Using fluorescent reporter proteins to determine where the dopamine receptors function in the C. elegans nervous system. 2) Using sophisticated optical techniques to directly measure the effects of dopamine signaling on neural activity in live animals.
For more information see http://www.biochem.umass.edu/faculty/daniel-chase
Patterning the Cell
The Ross Lab can host one student.
The insides of cells are like a microscopic city. Goods (proteins and chemicals) are produced in certain regions and they must be transported to other regions. This transportation occurs using nanomotors that carry the goods as cargo around the cell by walking along a protein highway. The highway is made from microtubule filaments. The organization of these filaments is essential to transport of materials in the cell. Further, microtubule filaments are re-arranged during mitosis or cell differentiation to create new organizations and patterns. In my lab, we are inspired by the cell and its ability to make patterns from microtubules and try to recapitulate these patterns outside of the cell. We use the nanomotors, called kinesin, to push microtubules around on a glass cover slip. We image the patterns created using fluorescence microscopy. By adding in additional microtubule binding and cross-linking proteins, we can begin to recapitulate patterns that are reminiscent of the organization inside living cells. For more information see http://people.umass.edu/rossj/Home.html
Comparative genomics to understand fungal pathogenicity
The Ma lab can host one student.
Fungi are listed as the most common cause of disease in agricultural crops. A recent survey revealed that fungal pathogens cause widespread population declines and account for 72% and 64% of recent animal and plant extinctions, respectively. It is imperative that we understand the genetic mechanisms that underpin the establishment and manifestation of fungal infections. The Ma lab studies a fungal system, Fusarium oxysporum, an important pathogen that causes severe diseases in humans and over 100 plant species. In silico comparative genomics will be employed to derive the hypothesis and in vitro pathogenicity assays will be used to test them. For more information, see http://www.biochem.umass.edu/faculty/li-jun-ma