Undergraduate Biology Lab Students All Get Cataracts

After a series of renovations and modifications, the fall semester of introductory biology (Biol18b) is now an 11 week project-based lab course focused on Molecular and Structural Biology.  Students in the course now design their own mutant of γD crystallin (a human protein implicated in congenital and age-onset cataractogenesis) using site-directed mutagenesis, purify and express their protein, and then study its stability using fluorescence and AFM.

A new paper in CBE – Life Sciences Education by Brandeis undergraduates Dan Treacy, Rebecca Miller, Stefan Isaac, Danielle Saly, and Saumya Sankaran, together with grad student Susannah Gordon-Messer and Assistant Professor of Biology Melissa Kosinski-Collins,  discusses a two-year study focused on assessing both student perception of the course and analyzing the levels conceptual understanding and knowledge retention of participants.  This paper marks the second in a series of articles highlighting studies performed by life science undergraduates enrolled in an educational internship course (Ed92a) with Kosinski-Collins.

Biology research experiences at Brandeis (Summer 2011)

Thanks to new funding from the National Science Foundation, starting in Summer 2011 Brandeis will offer a new research experiences for undergraduates (REU) program in Cell and Molecular Visualization. This new grant, organized by principal investigator Susan Lovett, will provide funding for 10 undergraduates to spend 10 weeks at Brandeis in the summer doing independent research projects in close collaboration with faculty mentors. NSF REU programs place special emphasis on providing research opportunities for under-represented groups in science, and for students whose colleges cannot provide cutting-edge research facilities.

The new program will join Brandeis’s  existing MRSEC REU and other summer research activities in providing a lively atmosphere for young researchers. This competitive program will provide stipends of $5000 each plus housing and meal allowances. Participants must be US citizens or permanent residents, and should have completed their sophomore or junior year of study and be enrolled in an accredited undergraduate college or university. Further information including an application form is available on the Biology website.

Being given the opportunity to do research as an undergrad was amazing, fun, intellectual, and extremely useful; I’ve done it for two summers now.   At the beginning of my college career I was pre-med, but it only took a summer of research to help me realize that I actually want to do science over the course of my career [...]

(see more quotes from undergraduates about summer research)

What we can learn about aging from worms

Coleen Murphy from the Dept of Molecular Biology at Princeton will tell us about “Slowing the Ticking Clock: What we can learn about aging and memory from C. elegans at the first Ruth Ann and Nathan Perlmutter Science Forum on Wednesday, March 9 at 4:00 pm in Gerstenzang 121. The focus of her research is on understanding the genes that regulate longevity, using C. elegans as a model system. Coleen performed her Ph.D. thesis research with Jim Spudich at Stanford where she studied myosin motors and then went on to  a post doctoral fellowship with Cynthia Kenyon at UCSF where she began studying aging. Since starting her own lab at Princeton, Coleen has been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including a Pew Scholar Award, a Keck Distinguished Young Scholar Award, and an NIH Director’s Innovator Award. Her lab’s most recent work showed that TGF-β and insulin signaling regulates reproductive aging. In addition, her lab has also recently been looking into the connection between longevity mutants and memory in C. elegans

About the Forum: Ruth Ann Perlmutter has been a longtime friend of Brandeis University. In 1969, Nathan Perlmutter became vice president of development at Brandeis during the presidency of Morris Abrams. Perlmutter left Brandeis to become the National Director of the Anti Defamation League. Together the Perlmutters were leaders in the interfaith movement and civil rights debates for which activities Nathan received the Presidential Medal of Freedom shortly before his death in 1987. Mrs. Perlmutter earned her B.A. from the University of Denver and her masters degree in sociology from Wayne State University in Detroit. She is a sculptor and painter in her own right and currently lives in Prescott, Arizona.

Biology study abroad

The Biology Dept. and the Office of Study Abroad will hold a joint presentation about studying abroad as a Biology major at 3:30pm on Tuesday, March 8 in the Alumni Lounge in Usdan Student Center (event listing on facebook). Come and learn about the many study abroad programs available, how you can fit study abroad into your schedule, and the exciting places you can go!

There will be presentations from J. Scott Van Der Meid, the Director of Study Abroad, Dr. Dan Perlman, the Biology Department Study Abroad Liaison, and Dr. Joan Press, the Biology Undergraduate Advising Head. Students will also get the chance to ask talk to Biology majors who have studied abroad in the past, and learn how their experiences have enhanced their academic experience at Brandeis.

Hope to see you all there!

- Biology UDRs

Barry and Dogic receive 2010 Cozzarelli Prize

Physics graduate student Edward Barry and Professor Zvonimir Dogic have been selected to receive the 2010 Cozzarelli Prize in Engineering and Applied Sciences from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) for their work entitled “Entropy driven self-assembly of non-amphiphilic colloidal membranes.”

The work of Barry and Dogic was selected for exploring a novel pathway for the self-assembly of 2D fluid-like surfaces or monolayer membranes from non-amphiphilic molecules. Amphiphilic molecules consist of immiscible components, such as a hydrophobic tail and a hydrophilic head, which are irreversibly linked to each other, thus frustrating their bulk separation. When added to water, these molecules self-assemble into a variety of structures in order to satisfy competing affinities for the solvent. One particular structure, a bilayer membrane, which is a thin flexible sheet with remarkable mechanical and chemical properties, plays an essential role in biology, physics, and material science. Over the past decade the paramount example of conventional amphiphilic self-assembly has inspired the synthesis of numerous amphiphilic-type building blocks for studies of membrane self-assembly including various block-copolymers, heterogeneous nanorods, and hybrid protein-polymer complexes. Underlying all of these studies is the belief that amphiphilic molecules are an essential requirement for membrane assembly.

Barry and Dogic, using a combination of theory and experiments, describe for the first time a set of design principles required for the assembly of non-amphiphilic membranes in which the constituent rod-like molecules are chemically homogeneous.  Using a simple mixture of filamentous bacteriophages and non-adsorbing polymer, they were able to assemble macroscopic membranes roughly 4-5 orders of magnitude larger than the constituent molecules themselves. Due to unique properties of their system, Barry and Dogic were able to characterize the physical behavior of the resulting non-amphiphilic membranes at all relevant length scales and provide an entropic mechanism that explains their stability. The importance of these results lies in their potential to establish a fundamentally different route toward solution based self-assembly of 2D materials.

Papers selected for the Cozzarelli Prize were chosen from more than 3,700 research articles published by PNAS in 2010 and represent the six broadly defined classes under which the National Academy of Sciences is organized. The award was established in 2005 and named the Cozzarelli Prize in 2007 to honor late PNAS Editor-in-Chief Nicholas R. Cozzarelli. The annual award acknowledges recently published papers that reflect scientific excellence and originality. The 2010 awards will be presented at the PNAS Editorial Board Meeting, and awardees are recognized at the awards ceremony, during the National Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting on May 1, 2011, in National Harbor, Maryland.

Alex’s life as a fly barista

Alex Dainis ’11 writes about her experiences in the Garrity lab studying the genetics of nociception in fruit flies in her story “My life as a fly barista” on the Life@Deis blog.

Update: see the later story on this blog about the Nature paper on which Alex is an author.

An outstanding referee

Refereeing papers, like refereeing sports, can be a thankless task. Reading and reviewing papers on short deadlines for pushy editors for no financial gain and little recognition is a duty taken on by academics, who often seem to like nothing better than to complain about it.  Perhaps in recognition of this, the American Physical Society has initiated a selective award program to recognize scientists who have been exceptionally helpful in assessing manuscripts for publication in the APS journals. The program annually recognizes approximately 150 of the 45,000 currently active referees.  Among the 144 Outstanding Referees of the Physical Review and Physical Review Letters journals, as chosen by the journal editors for 2011, is Professor Robert Meyer of the Brandeis Physics department.

High resolution virus structures from electron cryo-microscopy

Professor of Biochemistry Nikolaus Grigorieff discusses recent progress in obtaining virus structures at 4 Å or better resolution from electron microscopy in a new review “Near-atomic resolution reconstructions of icosahedral viruses from electron cryo-microscopy” in Current Opinon in Structural Biology.

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