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Biomolecular Sciences Ph.D. Student, Sheena Bryant, Has Been Featured as a Minority Graduate Fellow in the Quarterly NASA Educator

Sheenah Bryant, a student in the Biomolecular Sciences Ph.D. Program, was featured in an article entitled “A Potawatomi Daughter Embraces the Culture of Science”.  Sheenah is the recipient of the NASA Office of Education Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Aeronautics Scholarship and Advanced STEM Training and Research (ASTAR) Fellowship which includes three years of funding and three full summers of internship opportunities. Sheenah will be doing her internship at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, working with NASA scientists who collect and analyze biological data from samples exposed to various aspects of the space environment.

Boise State Physicist Extracts Lessons from Sea Squirts

FergusonThere are a bewildering variety of chemical processes and mechanical forces at play in a single living cell. While much remains to be learned, progress has been made in determining which molecules within cells trigger specific biochemical reactions. Researchers refer to the components of these biochemical systems as “modules.” Meanwhile, mechanical forces and the molecular signals a cell uses to regulate them remain relatively unexplored.

Now, a newly formed research team, financed by an innovative Scialog Award, will attempt to discover at least a few mechanical modules by focusing on a specific system of broad interest — cell extrusion in epithelial sheets. Epithelial tissues line organs, cavities and blood vessels throughout an animal’s body; epithelial cells form sheets by connecting to one another via their lateral membranes.

The researchers — Adriana Dawes (Ohio State University), Matthew Ferguson (Boise State University), Dinah Loerke (University of Denver) and Megan Valentine (University of California, Santa Barbara) — have each received $50,000 to come together to attempt to modify and study epithelial cell extrusion in Botryllus schlosseri, also known as the star ascidian, golden star tunicate or sea squirt. Click here to read more about the sea squirts article

NIH-funded Research Aims to Silence Bacteria

Rajesh Nagarajan with follow researchers in the lab.Communication is an essential survival skill among all species, even the microscopic variety. But while humans generally use words and gestures to express needs, and animals screech, bark and howl, bacteria communicate using chemical molecules.

Understanding that chemical language is the goal of Boise State biochemist Rajesh Nagarajan, who recently received a $395,813, three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to solve the problem.

Specifically, Nagarajan will look at how bacteria make the signal molecules to communicate with their neighbors. This communication happens only when bacteria need it in order to form a critical mass and attack, and different bacteria use different enzymes to, in essence, speak a specific language understood only by other targeted bacteria.
Click here to read more about silencing bacteria

Biomolecular Sciences Program to Award First Ph.D.

Chari Lamb portrait
When Cheri L. Lamb is hooded at Saturday’s Spring Commencement ceremony, she’ll not only have achieved a hard-earned goal, she’ll also be the first student to earn a Ph.D. in biomolecular sciences from Boise State.

The interdisciplinary program in the College of Arts and Sciences focuses on preparing students to satisfy the needs of a growing biotechnology and medical community in a 21st-century world.

The first of its kind in Idaho, the program allows researchers to solve problems by transcending the boundaries between the the traditional disciplines of biology, chemistry, physics and computer science. The interdisciplinary nature of the program distinguishes it from other programs in biomedical research.

The biomolecular sciences Ph.D. program was started in 2012 and Lamb will receive her degree after only four years of study. “Cheri is a talented researcher and is able to graduate about a year and a half earlier than the national average,” said Denise Wingett, professor and director of the program. “Her research has resulted in numerous peer-reviewed publications as well as manuscripts under peer review.”

Lamb’s research has been investigating the consequences of exposure to an environmental toxicant called TCDD — specifically, how exposure to TCDD affects liver fibrosis, which is a reversible wound healing response. She worked in the lab of Kristen Mitchell, associate professor in Boise State’s Department of Biological Sciences, and benefited from the training, service and support provided by the Biomolecular Research Center (BRC) staff.

Kristen Mitchell in lab“I am confident that the interdisciplinary training and skills that Cheri has amassed will benefit her as she pursues the next step of her career,” said Mitchell. “The way members of my laboratory think about research and develop experimental approaches has been broadened and strengthened by interacting with other graduate students and faculty in this interdisciplinary program. That has just opened the door to new resources for addressing increasingly complex problems in biomedical research.”

Lamb said her journey toward her doctorate has changed her in many ways and serves as an inspiration. “To me, this Ph.D. means inspiring other women to go after their dreams and be the best they can be,” she said. “It means inspiring a love for science in my daughter and showing her she can do whatever she wants to do and become whatever kind of person she wants to become.”

Immediately upon graduation, Lamb plans to apply her interdisciplinary training to biophysical research investigating the functionality of transmembrane cellular transporters. These transporters could lead to new methods of non-invasive delivery of drugs or treatment materials into living cells to control cellular functions.

Research by Daniel Fologea was featured in a story from Inside Science

Daniel Fologea in labResearch by Daniel Fologea was featured in a story from Inside Science titled “X-Rays Help Deliver Drugs with Pinpoint Accuracy.” The story referenced a presentation Fologea made at the February meeting of the Biophysical Society, where he briefly outlined his work with liposomes. These small artificial fat molecules can travel harmlessly throughout the body carrying medication, which can then be delivered to a specific site when hit with X-rays at a precise moment. Read the article here.

NSF CAREER Award Could Lead to New Disease Treatments

Fologea lecturing in lab

A protein extracted from the fluid of earthworms is providing researchers with valuable information that could help treat deadly diseases or eventually even lead to a cure for cancer.

Daniel Fologea, assistant professor of biophysics, is using lysenin protein in his five-year, $505,000 CAREER award from the National Science Foundation’s Biomaterials program.

The CAREER award is the NSF’s most prestigious award supporting junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. It is intended to give promising researchers an early career boost by providing stable research funding over an extended period of time.

Titled “Single molecule characterization and controlled transport using lysenin channels inserted into lipid membranes,” Fologea’s project integrates physics, biology, mathematics, engineering and education to advance the understanding and applications of lysenin channels for scientific, technological and biomedical purposes.

Here’s how it works. Proteins are inserted into insulating lipid membranes, forming nano-sized channels through the hydrophobic wall (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter). When an electrical current is passed through that channel, the passage of molecules through the pore produces tiny changes in the current flow. Watching for these changes allows researchers to detect and identify even a single molecule — such as a cancer marker — as it passes through the channel.  Keep reading…

Dr. Rajesh Nagarajan awarded NIH Grant

Nagarajan working in labThe $329,509 NIH award is for 3 years. The rapid rise in multidrug resistant bacteria poses special challenges to treating bacterial infections. Interbacterial communication via quorum sensing, facilitated by signal synthesis enzymes (such as AHL synthases in Gram-negative bacteria) has been implicated in the emergence of plasmid-mediated resistance, biofilm formation and toxin production. Since quorum sensing is an important step in virulence expression, AHL synthase inhibitors will provide valuable tools to manipulate bacterial pathogenicity. The focus of this NIH grant is to investigate the molecular basis on how a signal synthase prevents synthesis and accumulation of nonspecific signals (noise) during microbial communication. As part of this award, both graduate and undergraduate researchers in Dr. Nagarajan’s laboratory will utilize protein biochemistry and mechanistic enzymology to uncover the role of AHL synthases in enforcing signal fidelity in microbial communication, which will provide key insights to designing quorum sensing inhibitors.

Sheena Bryant Awarded Prestigious NASA Fellowship

Sheenah Bryant portraitSheenah was one of Boise State graduate students who was named a NASA Harriett G. Jenkins Graduate Fellows following a rigorous selection process. Only 13 of the prestigious Minority University Research Education Project (MUREP) Advanced STEM Training and Research (ASTAR) fellowships were awarded from proposals submitted from across the country.

The awards to Ann Marie Raymondi, a master’s student in biology, and Sheenah Lynn Bryant, a Ph.D. student in biomolecular sciences, require a multi-year commitment by both the fellow and their faculty advisor. The fellowships provide up to three years of funding to cover a stipend, fees, tuition and travel to national conferences, with an additional allocation for each advisor. As part of the application, the students developed a research proposal that was evaluated by NASA for scientific rigor and impact.

“These awards demonstrate that Boise State has joined an elite group of research universities. We attract high-quality graduate students who are competitive nationally, and institutions such as NASA recognize the research strengths of the university and, most importantly, the success of our students,” said Nancy Glenn, professor of geosciences and Raymondi’s advisor. “While it is wonderful to receive one award, the fact that Boise State received two awards only solidifies that we have become a metropolitan research university of distinction.”

In addition to research conducted at Boise State during the academic year, the award provides for an annual 10- to 15-week center-based research experience at a NASA Research Center. These experiences allow fellows to advance their degrees in STEM education, gain relevant research experience, expand their social networks, learn best practices and enhance their understanding of the research process.

NASA also provides professional development opportunities. Raymondi and Bryant are headed to Washington, D.C., this week to participate in the National Institute on Teaching and Mentoring conference.

“These awards are a great opportunity to expand research and educational opportunities for our students,” said Daniel Fologea, assistant professor of physics and Bryant’s advisor. “It confirms once again that the efforts Boise State puts into developing interdisciplinary programs is the right thing to do.”

Fologea notes that the fellowships will significantly increase the visibility of Boise State’s high-quality STEM education at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

The MUREP program focuses on recruiting underrepresented and underserved students in STEM disciplines through completion of undergraduate or graduate degrees in support of their entry into the scientific and technical workforce.

Sheenah Lynn Bryant, didn’t fully appreciate the opportunities presented by the award until she was able to tell her sons. “I told them that this fellowship has given me the opportunity to work with NASA to help astronauts spend more time in space,” she said. “My 8-year-old son responded by saying that he was proud of me for working so hard, and that now I will get to work for NASA and become a superhero. This award means to me that I can research exactly what I’ve always been passionate about and that anyone can become whatever they want to be.”

Her project is titled “Microgravity Induced Modulation of Ca2+ Transport Mediated by TRPV4 as a Risk Factor for Osteoporosis.” The project aims to identify the effects of prolonged flight exposure on bone remodeling processes by considering the impact of microgravity on the biological activity of TRPV4 ion channels.

Abstract: Astronauts experience unique risk factors while in space. One of these risk factors is the absence of gravity or mechanical stress, which affects the musculoskeletal tissue resulting in loss of bone mass. Scientists have identified TRPV4 ion channels as transmembrane proteins potentially involved in the cellular process of bone loss while in space. Our research objective is to demonstrate that absence of gravity increases the activity of TRPV4. Further, we will demonstrate that this increase in TRPV4 activity leads to a greater number of osteoclast cells which function to break down bone matrix. By understanding the role of TRPV4 in bone loss, we may develop practical measures to minimize bone loss in astronauts during space missions.

excerpted from Kathleen Tuck’s article in the November 20, 2015 Update

Jennifer Forbey’s Fulbright Could Lead to More Effective Drugs

Jennifer Forbey out in the fieldJennifer Forbey, associate professor of biological sciences, will travel to Sweden and Norway in February 2016 on a Fulbright Scholar award.

Forbey will spend four months studying the co-evolutionary relationship between plants and herbivores in an effort to speed the discovery of new and more effective drugs to treat diseases, particularly those that have developed multidrug resistance. She has done similar research with Idaho sage-grouse and pygmy rabbits for several years.

For her Fulbright award, she will partner with colleagues at Grimsö Wildlife Research Station, Sweden, and the Hedmark University College in Evenstad, Norway, which is a leading institution for grouse research. Hedmark is responsible for coordinating the grouse monitoring activities across Scandinavia and Russia as leaders of the Grouse Monitoring Network.

Researchers will observe four species — Rock ptarmigan, willow ptarmigan, capercaillie and black grouse — as they eat native plants that are highly toxic to other animals. The foraging behavior of these species is easily observed in the wild and their seasonal habitat use is well known, making them perfect for the study.  Keep reading…

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